Friday, March 30, 2012

Vincent: Six Internal and Spiritual Miseries

Our current Sunday afternoon series at CRBC has been through Spurgeon’s Baptist Catechism.  I have been reading alongside this study Thomas Vincent’s classic The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture (1674; Banner 1980).  LastSunday’s message was on question #18 (“What is the misery of that state whereinto man fell?”).  Here is my summary and expansion of Vincent’s description of six “internal and spiritual miseries which men are liable unto in this life by the fall":

1.      “To the thralldom of the devil to be led about by him at his will.”  It is as if men are dogs on a leash led about by the devil.  Paul says fallen man is in “the snare of the devil” and “taken captive to his will” (2 Tim 2:26).

2.     “To judiciary blindness of mind, and reprobate sense.” Fallen sinners have eyes, but they do not see, ears, but they do not hear.  In Romans 1:8 Paul speaks of those whom God has given over “to a reprobate mind.”

3.     “To judiciary hardness of heart, and searedness and benumbedness of conscience.”  God allows the hearts of sinners to become hardened (Rom 9:18).  The conscience is seared “as with a hot iron” (1 Tim 4:2).  Such men are, Paul says, “past feeling” (Eph 4:19).

4.     “To vile actions.”  Pick up the paper or go to any internet news site for an endless list of illustrations.

5.     “To strong delusions and belief of damnable errors.”  Think of it.  There would be no heresies had man not fallen.

6.     “To distress and perplexity of mind, dread and horror of spirit, and despairful agonies, through the apprehension of certain future wrath.”

Unbelieving man does not know it, but the nagging dread he feels as he ages is not just an aversion to his impending death but also to his certain judgment.

We’ve noted again and again in this exposition of the early questions in the catechism that it does not tire of describing man’s state in sin.  It does this not to wallow in man’s depravity but to pave the way for the announcement of God’s response to man’s sin in Christ, “the only Redeemer of God’s elect” (from the answer to question #20).

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Vision (3/29/12): With one mind and one mouth

Note:  Here are some of my notes from last Sunday’s sermon Edification and Unity (Romans 15:1-7):

“(5) Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus.  (6) That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).
     Note that v. 5 is both a prayer and an exhortation. Paul refers to the God of the Scriptures as “the God of patience and consolation” (exactly the same words used in v. 4 to describe the “patience and comfort” he gives through the Scriptures).  Paul asks for this God to grant to the saints a likeminded-ness toward one another.  The word “likeminded” here is a verbal phrase that means to think the same thoughts (to auto phronein; cf. Phil 2:1-2).
     This request is noteworthy, because Paul has just allowed in Romans 14 for the believers to take different stands on various non-essential matters.  But here he is saying that there must be an irreducible minimum that is not negotiable.  We can have tolerance one for another in non-essential matters, as long as we have unity in essential matters.
     In v. 6 this unity and likemindedness is made even more specific:  “that ye may with one mind (the adverb is homothumadon; this same word is used in Acts 15:2 where it says that in the Jerusalem Council the believers acted “with one accord”) and one mouth glorify God….”
     Paul is urging here both doctrinal unity and doxological unity.  The church is to think with one mind and to worship with one mouth.  You will hear some today in liberal and even in broadly evangelical churches complain that we should not press to attain clarity in what the church is to believe and how the church is to worship.  This will break up our unity, they claim.  But Paul says something here that is quite the opposite.  We don’t have real unity, unless we think with one mind and worship with one mouth.  Right theology glorifies God.  Right worship glorifies God.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When does the Christian Sabbath begin and end?

There was an interesting discussion recently on the RB Yahoo list concering the proper timing of the Christian Sabbath.  Is it from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday or is it from sunup Sunday to sunup Monday?  One post included this link to a blog article by Old School Presbyterian Andrew Webb arguing for the sunup Sunday to sunup Monday view (borrowing from the Puritan Thomas Vincent).  I'm still thinking about the arguments.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Video Review: "Courageous"

My family (well, those of us over age 13) watched “Courageous,” the latest film from the Kendrick brothers and Sherwood Baptist Church, on video the other night.  Just as “Facing the Giants” had a high school football theme, and “Fireproof” had a firefighter theme, “Courageous” has a policeman theme.  Most importantly, it focuses on the topic of fatherhood.  The Kendrick brothers have proven that Christians can make commercially appealing films with fairly high production values on a shoe string budget with mainly amateur actors that put Hollywood to shame.    
Though there were plenty of things in the film to applaud, it seemed to me to be the weakest of the Kendrick brothers’ films thus far (I have not yet seen their first film “Flywheel”).  Maybe that’s what happens when you make a number of these types of productions—it gets formulaic.  “Facing the Giants” has the coach writing down his life principles and sharing them with the team; “Fireproof” has the fireman following a written guideline on how to love his wife; and “Courageous” has the policeman writing down his resolutions on fatherhood and sharing them with his police buddies.  There were some emotionally powerful moments.  If you’ve seen it, then you know it has some sequences involving policemen fighting crime and a gut-wrenching loss that are a bit more intense than in their previous films.  I agree with some other reviews I read, however, which note that the storyline gets a little convoluted with lots of sub-stories spun out but not fully developed.  The main plot is about fatherhood, but it also throws in grieving the death of a child, gang violence, drug abuse, dating, immigrants pursuing the American dream, police corruption, business ethics, marriage, multiculturalism, etc.  Again, so many sub-stories make it come off a bit disjointed and lacking focus.
The main issues I have with the film, however, are with some of the practical theological and spiritual messages (surprise!).  For one thing it seems to me that the Kendrick view on fatherhood has been influenced by the patriarchal outlook of Vision Forum, et al.  I have noticed that the Kendricks have recently been involved in Doug Philip’s annual film festival in San Antonio, Texas, and my guess is that some Vision Forum influence has rubbed off.  Though I agree with the distinct Biblical role of men in the family, the patriarchal outlook sometimes emphasizes the role of the father to the exclusion of other significant Biblical emphases, like the role of the mother and the partnership between both father and mother in parenting, the role of the church and her officers in spiritual formation, and most importantly the subordination of all family relationships to the supremacy of Christ himself.  Fatherhood or the family can become a golden calf just like everything else.
It is in the area of ecclesiology, however, that “Courageous” may come up shortest.  Though the film ends with the main character giving an impassioned (lay) testimony on fatherhood during a special Father’s Day worship service, the role of the church and her officers in evangelism and discipleship are largely lacking in the film.  There is one scene where a pastor offers grief counseling, but spiritual growth for the fictional characters comes primarily through the unofficial men’s “small group” that develops among the officers and their Hispanic friend.  Evangelism happens when an older Christian policeman shares his beliefs privately with a younger non-Christian policeman, rather than through the preaching of the gospel in the gathered church.  All this has a very contemporary broad-evangelical feel to it.
The film also suggests several non-Biblical ceremonies.  A father takes his daughter out to dinner and gives her a ring betokening her promise of purity till given to her father-approved husband in marriage.  This hints at both the influence of Vision Forum and the Southern Baptist “True Love Waits” campaign.  The men also have a special ceremony to read and affirm the fatherhood resolution.  Added to these ceremonies is the not so subtle suggestion that spiritual advancement must be accompanied by emotionalism.  From a Biblically regulated perspective on the Christian life, the main question we must ask is, “Why do we need to add non-biblical ordinances and ceremonies to what Scripture already supplies?”  If a man becomes a Christian he should confess his faith in public baptism.  If he fails and falters in some spiritual aspect of his life (and he will), like fatherhood (or anything else), then he may examine his life and renew his baptismal vows in the regular partaking of the Lord’s Supper.  There is no depiction of the Biblically ordained dramas of baptism and the Lord’s Supper in “Courageous.”

OK, I can hear some of you saying what my family sometimes does, “Jeff (or, Dad), can’t we just enjoy the wholesome entertainment and recreational values of this film, without going all Reformed-regulative principle-theological on it?”  Sure.  This film is so much better than the regular Hollywood fare.  Enjoy it.  But, on the other hand, don’t forget about those subtle and not so subtle spiritual issues.  “Christian” films are no more neutral than are Hollywood ones.

Christmas in March

It can be kind of scary when a church member says, "Come out to the car, there's something I want to give you, Pastor."  In the rural church I served in Warsaw, Virgina it might have been a bag of tomatoes or string beans.  In other churches where I have been it might have been a piece of someone's mind! But last Sunday, when I heard that line, I got a really wonderful surprise:  a set of John Owen's seven volume Hebrews commentary, along with William Gouge's two volume commentary on Hebrews. Christmas in March! 

Monday, March 26, 2012

The NKJV and the Song of Solomon

In our Scripture reading in Lord's Day worship services at CRBC we have been making our way through the wisdom literature of the Old Testament and got to the Song of Solomon over the last couple of Sundays.  One member was asking me about some differences he'd caught between the NKJV and KJV translations, and I pointed him to this Trinitarian Bible Society article on The New King James Version and the Song of Solomon by G. Hamstra.  Hamstra's main objection to the NKJV translation is its use of editorial headings to identify its interpretation of the speakers.  He also takes issue with this as a reflection of modern attempts to see the Song of Songs as primarily about human love relationships, a kind of Hebrew erotica, over against the traditional interpretation of the book which sees it as pointing to Christ's love for the church.


Stylos blog milestone

The Stylos blog passed the 100,000 page view milestone over the weekend.  The blog now has c. 2-300 page views per day.  It's nice to know someone is out there reading.  Thanks to faithful Stylos readers and followers for their encouragement.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Von Harnack, 19th century liberal scholarship, and implications for the text of Scripture

Image:  Adolph von Harnack (1851-1930)

Adolph von Harnack (1851-1930) was a leading, liberal German church historian and New Testament scholar.  I have been reading his The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries (German original 1902; Harper Torchbook, 1962).

I am struck by von Harnack's declarations of the historical-critical scholarly stance of the day which sought to distance the historical Jesus and his teaching from "later" church development.  So, for von Harnack, Jesus did not envision a mission to the Gentiles, but this mission was created by the apostles and post-apostolic figures.  Thus, he writes, regarding "syncretism" in early Christianity:  "Christianity was not originally syncretistic itself, for Jesus Christ did not belong to this cirles of ideas, and it was his disciples who were responsible for the primitive shaping of Christianity" (p. 35).  The "universalism" of the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20) is "neither genuine, nor a part of the primitive tradition" (p. 37).  Thus:  "The conclusion must be that Jesus never issued such a command at all, but that this version of his life was due to the historical developments of a later age, the words being appropriately put into the mouth of the risen Lord" (p. 41).  Von Harnack expresses admiration for "the primitive apostles" who took on a mission that Jesus "had never taught them" (p. 61).

In this work, von Harnack expresses his noted skepticism regarding the historical value of the Gospel of John in particular, attributing authorship of the Johannine corpus not to the son of Zebedee but to the post-apostolic "John the Presbyter" (pp. 81-82). John's writings would reflect much too developed and orthodox a Christology to be primitive, in von Harnack's view. He likewise dismisses the traditional ending of Mark (16:9-20) as an "unauthentic appendix" (p. 38).

Why am I reading this?  For one thing, I am trying to get a better feel for the scholarly environment in which the traditional text of Scripture came to challenged and overthrown in both Germany and Britain (and then America).  It is certain that the drive to achive a modern critical text was not an "orphan" movement, without father or mother.  The thesis:  The desire to reach a more "primitive" Biblical text reflected a desire to reach a more primitive Jesus, free from the pious barnacles of orthodoxy.  So, the God of nineteenth century liberal scholarship is more unitarian, its Jesus more Arian, and its prefered Bible, based on "the most ancient and reliable manuscripts," reflected these convictions.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Vision (3/22/12): Top Ten Reasons Not to Attend or Join a Reformed Baptist Church

Update:  This post also appeared on the Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog and the Aquila Report.

A tongue-in-cheek list of the reasons you should not attend or join a Reformed Baptist Church:

1. The doctrine is too defined.
Come on….  I mean the Second London Baptist Confession (1689) is 40 pages long!   It does not define crucial doctrines like election and depravity so ambiguously that even an Arminian could affirm them.  If you define your doctrine too clearly that will exclude a lot of people, and isn’t our main goal to get larger in number?
2.  The worship is too “regulated.”
There’s no children’s church, no children’s sermon, no skits, no choir specials, no praise team, no choir cantatas, no testimonies.  In fact, all they sing are psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to tunes that are too square to ever be covered on the local pop station.
3.  The expectations are too high.
If you miss a service, someone is likely to call and ask how you’re doing.  The church is so small that everyone has to pitch in and do something.  You can’t just fade into the woodwork.  The membership covenant is taken too seriously.
4.  The sermons are too long and complicated.
The focus is always on the text and not on random contemporary topics.  There’s no power point outline or fill in the blank bulletin inserts.  I can’t just zone out, but I have to think about and follow what is being said.
5.  There’s too much emphasis on Sunday as the Lord’s Day.
If you go to this church you’ll probably end up spending nearly your whole Sunday (that’s one of your two weekend days) in the public worship of God.  It’s like they don’t even take the college athletic or professional sports schedules into consideration when planning the church calendar.
6.  There’s not enough “freedom” in the Spirit.
There are no people speaking in tongues, raising their hands while singing praise choruses, giving prophecies or “words of knowledge.”  It’s almost as if they believe that the extraordinary offices and gifts ceased after the time of the apostles, and now all they talk about is how the Spirit speaks through the Scriptures!
7.  The leaders are too strong and have too much authority.
Sure the Bible talks about how elders are supposed to lead and feed the flock, but what about our American democracy?  I mean, isn’t every member a minister?  Anybody should be able to preach.  I don’t think anyone ought to be able to tell me what to do or how to live.  If ministers cross the line, we need to put them in their place.
8.  There are not enough programs.
I mean basically all these folk do is meet on Sunday for worship and at mid-week for Bible study and prayer.  Where are the children’s choirs, the youth groups, the senior member outings, AWANA, etc.  Why, they don’t even do Sunday School or small groups!  It’s no wonder they don’t grow.
9.  They don’t do altar calls.
The service ends with the benediction rather than an altar call.  There are no multiple verses of “Just as I am.”  They talk about the preaching of the gospel as the preferred means of evangelism.  They don’t teach any neatly packaged evangelism programs, and they do not rush to announce professions of faith or to baptize persons prematurely.
10.  They teach that commitment to Christ is more important even than commitment to family.
Sure, they emphasize strong marriages, family discipleship, and family worship, but they have the nerve to suggest that if anyone loves his family more than Christ he is not worthy of Christ.
I think you will agree with me that for all the reasons above, you should be very careful about attending or joining with a Reformed Baptist Church.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Horton on ministers as God's covenant attorneys

Here are more gleanings from Michael Horton's The Christian Faith on ecclesiology.  He makes the typical Reformed emphasis on the importance of church officers and distinguishes between ministers, ruling elders, and deacons, noting, "The Spirit meditates Christ's threefold office as prophet, priest, and king in this age through these three offices of pastor-teacher, deacon, and elder" (p. 858).  Thus, "Pastors preach and teach, elders rule, and deacons serve" (p. 859).  Or, as he later puts it, "Pastors feed, elders rule, and deacons service the saints in their temporal welfare" (p. 897).

Here is a paragraph in which Horton explains the role of the minister in the congregation and especially as a worship leader and pronouncer of the benediction upon God's people:

A minister is not a master.  Yet it is also true that a minister is not a facilitator, coach, or team leader.  Ministers do not serve at the pleasure of the people, but at the pleasure of the King.  It is not their church or their ministry, but Christ's; and it is in their office, not in their person, that they represent the heavenly authority.  Not only in the sermon, but throughout the service, they are God's covenant attorneys.  Many Christian liturgies include at some point the Aaronic blessing:  "The LORD bless and keep you....  The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace" (Nu 6:24-26).  These words are not mere well-wishing, but are God's act of blessing his people.  Ministering as diplomats of Yahweh, the priests actually placed God's benediction on the people.  It was a legal, convenantal action, a performative utterance that placed the people under the blessings rather than the curses of the covenant:  "So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them" (v. 27 emphasis added).  And in the mouths of ministers of the Word today, it has the same performative nature (p. 892).

Blog recommendation: Answering Muslims

Yesterday morning I noticed while listening to NPR and the BBC on the radio that they were suggesting that the shooting this week in the Jewish school in Toulouse, France might have been the act of a Neo-Nazi or a racist, anti-immigrant nationalist.  They were even suggesting that the shooting might have been encouraged by right-wing rhetoric in France's current Presidential election campaign. The one possibility they did not suggest was that it might have been the work of an Islamic terrorist.  Today, however, the French police have cornered the presumed terrorist who is Mohammed Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent, claiming to be part of al-Quaeda.  For an interesting blog that often makes plain the kinds of obvious conclusions that media like NPR and BBC fear to mention, check out Answering Muslims, the Islamoblog of Acts 17 Apologetics.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Horton: Christ is our most decisive location.

I'm now in the ecclesiology sections of Horton's The Christian Faith.  Horton is well known for his critique of pragmatic church growth methods in contemporary evangelicalism.  After a reference to Paul's exhortation to the church at Corinth (1 Cor 11:20-22) regarding internal divisions over the Lord's Supper, Horton draws this comparison:

Today Paul might say, "Don't you have your own homes, cars, workplaces, and circle of friends with whom you can listen to your favorite music, display your distinctive styles, and enjoy the peculiarities of your own niche demographic?"  However, the church of God is the place where the young, the old, the middle-aged, men and women of all races, the sick and the healthy, those with disabilities and without, the unemployed and the wealthy gather to become one in Christ.  Our churches should exhibit the kind of community that is formed by God's choice rather than our own.  Christ is our most decisive location (p. 861).

Monday, March 19, 2012

Boston: "Your corrupt heart is like an ant's nest...."

When preaching Sunday in our catechism series on The Sinfulness of Man's State, I used this quote from Thomas Boston in Human Nature in Its Fourfold State:

Your corrupt heart is like an ant's nest, on which, while the stone lies, none of them appear; but take off that stone, and stir them up but with the point of a straw, you will see what a swarm is there, and how lively they be.  Just such a sight would your heart afford you, did the Lord but withdraw the restraint He has upon it, and suffer Satan to stir it up by temptation (p. 145). 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Text Note: Doxology at the end of Romans 14:23?

The issue:

There is a major text critical issue with the ending of Romans that begins to rear its head at the close of Romans 14.  The question revolves around the proper place for the doxology (appearing at Romans 16:25-27 but inserted in some manuscripts, and most notably in the Majority Text tradition, after Romans 14:23).  The discussion also involves the integrity of Romans 16:24 (which I hope to discuss later when we reach chapter 16).

External Evidence:
In his Textual Commentary, Metzger notes six major text variations [Greek mss witnesses in brackets] (p. 534):

1.      1:1—16:23 plus doxology [p61 (vid), Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, C, D, 81, 1739]

2.     1:1—14:23 plus doxology plus 15:1—16:23 plus doxology [A, P, 5, 33, 104]

3.     1:1—14:23 plus doxology plus 15:1-16:24 [L, Psi, 0209 (vid), 181, 326, 330, 614, 1175, and the Byzantine (Majority) tradition]

4.     1:1—16:24 [F, G, 629]

5.     1:1—15:33 plus doxology plus 16:1-23 [p46]

6.     1:1—14:23 plus 16:24 plus doxology [a few Vulgate mss]
Here is a place where the Textus Receptus is closer to Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (though the TR includes 16:24) rather than the Majority reading.  Both modern editions of the Greek Majority Text (Hodges/Farstad and Robinson/Pierpont include the doxology after 14:23 and end Romans at 16:24).

Internal Evidence:

According to Origen’s Commentary on Romans, the early heretic Marcion eliminated chapters 15-16 from his edition of Romans (see Metzger, p. 533).  This early meddling with the text likely led to the confusing textual tradition.  The question in the widest tradition became not whether to include the doxology (16:25-27) but where to include it.  Some included it at the end of chapter 16, others at the end of chapter 14, some both at the end of chapter 14 and at the end of chapter 16, and one at the end of chapter 15.

This textual variation has also led to speculation among modern commentators as to the possibility that two version of Romans circulated in early Christianity, one that ended at chapter 15 (supposedly sent to Rome) and another that ended at chapter 16 (supposedly sent to Ephesus).


This issue demonstrates how the text of Scripture was affected by theological conflict early in the Christian movement.  While affirming the modern critical text’s decision to include the doxology at Romans 16:25-27, Metzger explains, “Some of the other sequences may have arisen from the influence of the Marcionite text upon the dominant form(s) of the text of the epistle in orthodox circles” (p. 536).  In the ecclesiastical text tradition there is no question of whether Romans 16:24 and Romans 16:25-27 should be included in the legitimate text of Scripture.  The only question is where they should appear. The Textus Receptus demonstrates the text critical consensus of Reformation era interpreters both that Romans 16:24 should be included as part of the Word of God (more on this later, DV) and that the proper place for Romans 16:25-27 to appear is not at the end of Romans 14 but at the end of Romans 16. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Vision (3/15/12): For even Christ pleased not himself

Note:  We concluded our exposition of Romans 14 last Sunday.  This great chapter addresses the important issues of Christian liberty, conscience, and unity.  Paul sums up his argument in Romans 15:3 by pointing believers to the model of Christ.  Here are my notes from the conclusion of last Sunday’s sermon:

Romans 15:3:  “For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.”

Paul roots the attitude that the strong are to have toward their weak brothers in the example of Christ on the cross.  Paul’s spirit reminds me of how Charles Spurgeon described his approach to preaching.  He said, “I take my text and I make a beeline to the cross.”  Paul never strays far from the cross.

Paul challenges the strong and weak brothers by calling the saints at Rome to take on the mind of Christ.  So he begins, “For even Christ pleased not himself….”  That is a point that needs to sink in.  Do you think Christ wanted to go the cross?  Did he want to be  abandoned by his closest friends?  Did he want to scourged?  Did he want to be mocked?  Did he want to have the crown of thorns pressed upon his brow?  Did he want to be crucified among thieves?  Did he want to go through the spiritual agony of being God-forsaken?  Remember his prayer in the garden?  “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt 26:39).  Christ, according to his humanity, did not go to the cross to please himself.

“But,” Paul adds, “as it is written….”  Notice that Scripture is always the cinch for Paul’s arguments:  “The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.”  The citation is from Psalm 69:9.  Psalm 69, along with passages like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, provides us with an Old Testament passion narrative.  The crucified Messiah is talking to the Father.  Who did Christ want to please?  He wanted to please the Father.  Just before this citation in Psalm 69:9 the Messiah says, “For the zeal of thine house has eaten me up.”

Both the weak brother and the strong brother have the tendency to say or think, This church would be perfect if everyone had the same convictions and had made the same choices I have made in following non-essential practices.

Instead, Paul says, we ought to have the spirit of Christ who did not insist on his own way, who did not live to please himself, but who took up the interest of sinners and suffered the shame of the cross in fulfillment of the Father’s will.

Christ has done so much for us; can we do so little for each other?  Murray asks, “Shall we, the strong, insist on pleasing ourselves in the matter of food and drink to the detriment of God’s saints and the edification of Christ’s body?” (p. 199).   

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bunyan on the Lord's Day in "The Life and Death of Mr. Badman"

I’ve been reading John Bunyan’s The Life and Death of Mr. Badman of late.  This is one of Bunyan’s lesser known spiritual allegories.  The story is set as a dialogue between Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Attentive, reflecting on the death of their unconverted neighbor, Mr. Badman.
In this dialogue Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Attentive review the life of Mr. Badman and his various sinful shortcomings.  These include his unwillingness to honor the fourth commandment.  Even as a child, says Mr. Wiseman, “he could not endure the Lord’s Day because of the Holiness that did attend it….”
Later, the two men discuss the importance of the Lord’s Day in the Christian’s life:
Mr. Attentive:  Doth not God by the instituting of a day unto holy Duties, make great proof how the hearts and inclinations of poor people do stand to Holiness of heart, and a Conversation in holy duties?
Mr. Wiseman:  Yes, doubtless; and a man shall shew his Heart and his Life what they are, more by one Lord’s-day, than by all the days of the week besides: And the reason is, because on the Lord’s-day there is a special restraint laid upon men as to Thought and Life, more than upon other days of the week besides.  Also, men are enjoined on that day to a stricter performance of holy Duties, and restraint of worldly business, than upon other days they are; wherefore, if their hearts incline not naturally to good, now they will shew it, now they will appear what they are.  The Lord’s day is a kind of an Emblem of the heavenly Sabbath above, and it makes manifest how the heart stands to the perpetuity of Holiness, more than to be found in transient Duty, does.
On other days a man may be in and out of holy Duties, and all in a quarter of an hour; but now, the Lord’s Day is, as it were, a day that enjoins to one perpetual Duty of Holiness:  Remember that thou keep the holy Sabbath day (which by Christ is not abrogated, but changed, into the First of the week,) not as it was given in particular to the Jews, but as it was sanctified by him from the Beginning of the world; and therefore is a greater proof of the frame and temper of a man’s heart, and does more make manifest to what he is inclined, than doth his other performances of Duties:  Therefore God puts great difference between them that truly call (and walk in) this day as holy, and count it Honourable, upon the account that now they have an opportunity to shew how they delight to honour him; in that they have, not only an Hour, but a whole Day to shew it in:  I say, he puts great differences between these, and that other sort that say, When will the Sabbath be gone, that we may be at our worldly business.  The first he called a Blessed man, that brandeth the other for an unsanctified worldling.  And, indeed, a delight to ourselves in God’s service upon his Holy days, gives a better proof of a sanctified Nature, than to grudge at the coming, and to be weary of the holy duties of such days, as Mr. Badman did.
Bunyan’s obvious high view of the continuing relevance of the fourth commandment in the moral law, evident in the diaologue, is striking, especially given the fact that “New Covenant” theologians sometimes appeal to Bunyan as an advocate for their views.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Horton, Liberal theology, Arian Christology, and the modern critical text

Image:  Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768).  Reimarus was a noted German Enlightenment scholar.  After his death various unpublished writings (Reimarus's Fragments) were put in print which questioned orthodox confessional views on the deity of Christ and set the course for various scholarly "quests" to uncover "the historical Jesus" in contrast to "the Christ of faith."

In his discussion of Christology in The Christian Faith, Michael Horton provides some interesting critiques of historical-critical methodology arising out of liberal Protestantism (particularly in Germany).  At one point, for example, he notes:

“The liberal trajectory leading from Reimarus’s Fragments to D. F. Strauss’s Life of Jesus and Adolf von Harnack’s Essence of Christianity is essentially Arian (or Adoptionistic)” (p. 465).

Horton later notes how this trajectory continues in modern liberal theology:

“Much of late modern theology (liberal, existential, liberationist) is, in tendency at least, Socinian.  That is, it assumes, a Unitarian view of God, a Pelagian view of human moral ability, and therefore an Arian reduction of Christ to a moral example and/or a Gnostic separation between the Jesus of history (who remains dead) and a Christ of faith (who never died and therefore can offer spiritual enlightenment)” (p. 481).

In reading these kinds of remarks it struck me that Horton’s point on how Arian tendencies in modern liberal theology led to the undermining and denial of orthodox Christology might also be applied to Biblical textual issues.  Modern text critics typically consider traditional text readings which reflect high Christology to be “late,” “secondary,” “harmonistic,” and “pious”; whereas, readings that downgrade explicitly high Christological viewpoints are typically considered more “primitive” and closer to the “original.”  For an example of this see my recent discussion of the text of Romans 14:10 where the modern critical text prefers “the judgment seat of God” to the traditional text’s “the judgment seat of Christ.”

It continues to surprise me that conservative and Reformed evangelicals (like Horton, though he might not be too pleased with being labeled an “evangelical”) are very keen (rightly!) to point out the bias of modern liberalism in doctrinal areas like Christology, but they seem blind to the fact that these same influences were and are at work in the undermining of the traditional Reformed text of Scripture.  Can they at least entertain the possibility that the same liberal scholars who argued for an Arian Christ in the New Testament just might have also been interested in reconstructing a critical edition of the New Testament that reflects their Christological  perspective?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Text Note: Romans 14:21

In my sermon yesterday from Romans 14:19-15:3 I ran across this textual variation in Romans 14:21:

The issue:

The traditional text contains two verbs at the ending of the verse that are omitted in the modern critical text reconstruction.  So, the traditional texts ends, “stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak [prokoptei e skandalizetai e asthenei],” while the modern critical text ends at “stumble [proskoptei].”

Here is a comparison of English translation based on the traditional and modern texts (emphasis added):

Traditional:  Geneva Bible:  “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.”

Modern:  ESV:  “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.”

External evidence:

The traditional text is supported by an unusually strong range of the earliest witnesses.  According to the critical apparatus in the Nestle-Aland 27th ed.,  it is the apparent reading of p46, the second corrector of Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus, along with numerous other codices including D, F, G, Psi, 0209, 33, 1881.  It was the reading adopted by the Majority text and also appears in various early versions, including the Latin Vulgate, the Syriac Harklean, Sahidic Coptic, and Armenian.

The modern critical text, on the other hand, is supported by the original hand of Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and a few other codices and versions, including the Syriac Peshitta, and the Coptic Bohairic.

Internal Evidence:

Metzger notes that, “The Textus Receptus incorporates a Western expansion” which “gained wide circulation” (Textual Commentary, p. 532).  He then adds, “Other variations in various witnesses suggest that the original text was modified or expanded by copyists who recollected 1 Cor 8:11-13.”  When one examines the apparatus in Nestle-Aland, however, the major witnesses cited do not give evidence of widespread “variations” but only the divergence between the texts that include three verbs and those that include one.  The modern critical text is based on an assumed preference for the shorter reading.  Is it possible, however, that the so-called “expanded” reading is original and the other texts reveal efforts to abbreviate it.  Is it also possible that a scribe’s eye looked at the ending of proskoptei (ending in –ei) and took it for the ending of asthenei (also ending in –ei) and prematurely ended the verse, thus omitting the final two verbs?  Metzger conjectures that the passage has been modified to harmonize with 1 Corinthians 8:11-13, but the verbs skandalizo (cf. the use of the related noun skandalon in 14: 13) and astheneo (cf. 14:1; 15:1) clearly fit the context in Romans 14-15.


The traditional reading has the earliest attestation, even supported by papyri evidence (p46).  It is even supported by Codex Vaticanus, usually a text given great weight by modern scholars.  It provides another example of a place where Sinaiticus (in the original hand) and Vaticanus diverge and do not present a unified witness against the traditional text.  Reasonable explanations can be provided as to how the reading adopted by the modern critical text might have developed (i.e., efforts at abbreviation or parablepsis with the –ei endings).  The traditional reading fits the vocabulary usage of Paul in context.  There is no compelling reason to abandon the traditional text and good reasons for retaining it.   

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Trinitarian Bible Society's new website

The Trinitarian Bible Society has a long awaited new website up and running.  TBS was founded in 1831 "for the circulation of Protestant or uncorrupted versions of the word of God."  They staunchly defend the continued use of the Authorised Version (KJV) among English speaking people and also support translations of the Bible in other language from the traditional text of Scripture (Hebrew Masoretic Text and Greek Received Text).

The new website makes available a  number of helpful articles and booklets.  You can, for example, view or download a pdf of the KJV "word list" to help with fluency and comprehension in reading the KJV.  You can also view or download the entire booklet by C. P. Hallihan, The Authorised Version:  A Wondeful and Unfinished History.  You can also read current and back issues of the TBS's magazine, The Quarterly Record online and keep up with various translation projects and new products.

Of course, the new website also allows you to order TBS Bible products, including quality English Bibles, psalters, and Hebrew and Greek Bibles in the traditional text.


Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Vision (3/8/12): "But now we see not yet all things put under him" (Hebrews 2:8b)

One of the things I like best about the King James Version of the Bible for devotional reading and preaching is the fact that it is so aphoristic.  Wheaton English professor Leland Ryken defines an aphorism simply as “a concise, memorable statement,” adding, “The King James Bible is the most aphoristic book in the English language” (The Legacy of the King James Bible [Crossway, 2011]:  p. 155).

One of the best ways to devotionally read Scripture is to take one of its aphorisms and meditate on it throughout the day.  One such thought that I ran across this week was this gem in Hebrews 2:8b:  “But now we see not yet all things put under him.”

 In context the author of Hebrews (some believe the book was written by the apostle Paul but this is uncertain) is stressing the superiority of Christ to the angels.  He cites Psalm 8 to reflect on how Christ “was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour” (v. 9).  Though confident that one day all things will plainly be made subject to Christ, the author also acknowledges that this has not yet come about.  “But now we see not yet all things put under him.”  Theologians sometime speak of the “already” and the “not yet” of the Christian life.  This little verse captures that truth.

Now the gospel is being spread through many means and preached in many lands, though its progress is frequently rejected and impeded by sinful men.  But one day the knowledge of the Lord will cover the face of the earth as the waters cover the seas.

Now our bodies grow older and wearier with time and age.  We are clay vessels.  But one day we will be joined to our resurrection bodies.  Every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more death and pain.

Now we see things only in part.  Even in the best of us, our knowledge of spiritual things is clouded by sin.  We see through a glass darkly.  But one day we will see Christ.  We will know even as we are fully known.

Now our local assemblies are mainly weak little flocks.  We seek a regenerate community, but we are often little better than a mixed multitude.  Tares are sown among the wheat.  But one day we will join the righteous myriads in heaven of just men made perfect through the blood of Christ.

 Take one look at the world around you, and it will be quite plain that this world is not yet all it will one day will be.  That’s not a bad thing to keep in mind throughout your day:  “But now we see not yet all things put under him.”

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thoughts on the most recent viral video ("Invisible Children")

One of our CRBC students sent me a link to this Invisible Children video (over 32 million downloads when I watched it today) that has gone viral over the last few days, dealing with bringing justice to Joseph Kony, leader of "The Lord's Resistance Army" in Uganda.  I also heard a brief report on the video on the BBC international broadcast early this morning.  I realize that just by virtue of doing this post I am adding to the video's now largely successful effort to make Kony "famous" (or, rather, "infamous").

Anyhow, our student emailed the following:  "The video I'm linking to is taking the U.S. by storm. It has a very good premise, but I'm wary of it for some reason. I really want to get your opinion so I hope you can set aside half an hour to watch."  Here is the response I sent him (with some slight expansion/editing):

I did get around to watching the video. Who would not be touched by the plight of children suffering due to war?

Like you, however, I do have some concerns from a spiritual perspective. Though heartfelt, the video also is naive and utopian. For one thing, it assumes all the problems in Uganda can be solved by arresting one man. From a Christian/biblical worldview we know this is not possible. Remove one dictator/terrorist/criminal and another will likely spring up. In fact, we would say that the peaceful film-maker and his adorable son are capable of the same horrific sins as Kony or any other sinner. We are only restained by the grace of God. Jesus said there will be wars and rumors of war, but the end is not yet (Mark 13:7). The film assumes problems caused by human sinfulness (including man's inhumanity against man or sin against his neighbor) can be ended via political and humanitarian efforts. Truth is, the root problem is spiritual, and it will not end till Christ returns. This sort of film must be watched alongside meditation on Spurgeon's Catechism (especially the questions on sin; cf. the Westminster Shorter Catechism).

On the other hand, this does not mean that Christians (and others merely by virtue of their humanity) should not also be willing to stand up for justice. Here too, however, the film is terribly simplistic and probably does not fully understand the reasons why Kony rose in power and has stayed there. Many Americans do not understand longstanding tribal and ethnic divisions in other nations and project a naive "can't we all just get along" answer to conflicts made most difficult by the twisted nature of human sinfulness. The film naively celebrates the sending of 100 US troops to Uganda. What good will this do in a nations of millions? The film also presents a typical Western approach to solving social issues.  Namely, it implies that we can solve all problems by having a rally, passing out bracelets, and putting up posters. Put up all the posters you want, and sinners are still sinners.

One final line of questions about the video's closing promotional push: How do we now that this organization is reputable? Are they non-profit? Who is on their board? How many employees do they have and how much are they paid? Who profits from the sales of posters, banners, bracelets, in the starter kit? Couldn't someone just make these things on his own?

Food for thought.

Grace, Pastor Jeff

Note: After writing my response, I also ran across this article by Michael Deibert which points to some of the more complicated backgrounds for the problems in Uganda which the "Invisible Children" video ignores.