Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Vision (6/28/12): Tacitus and Independence Day

In the recent course I’ve been teaching on New Testament and Early Christianity, I did a survey of the handful of extra-biblical historical references to Christianity in the first few centuries of the Christian movement.  One comes from around the year 115 A. D. in the writings of the Roman historian Tacitus (in his Annals, xv.44).  In describing the reign of the Emperor Nero he includes a reference to how this cruel and profane man blamed and persecuted Christians for a fire in Rome c. 64 A. D.:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

This brief reference is important on many levels.  First, it provides a historical reference to Jesus (“Chrestus”) outside of (and consistent with) the Gospels, including his death under Pontius Pilate while Tiberius was Emperor.  This is useful information to rebut the occasional quack who comes along and claims that Jesus was only a mythical figure and not a historical reality.  Second, it tells us how some pagans saw Christianity as “a most mischievous superstition” and as “haters of mankind.”  It also reminds us that many of our spiritual forebears were willing to place their lives on the line for their faith.  When Hebrews 11 describes the believing martyrs it calls them those “of whom the world was not worthy” (v. 38).

Next week we will celebrate the Independence Day of our nation.  We can thank the Lord that for more than two centuries this nation has provided a safe haven of religious liberty for many.  May the Lord be pleased to extend our freedom, despite the church’s and our nation’s many faults and struggles, even as he prepares us to be willing to lose all for him, when we are called upon to do so.   

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"The greater happiness is, the calmer it is."

Some expanded notes from last Sunday’s sermon on Luke 1:39-56:

Among the words recorded here are those sometimes referred to as the Magnificat or “Song of Mary” (vv. 46-55).  But note that the text simply records that she “said” these words.  These are her spoken words.

Note also the contrast to Elisabeth’s exuberant words, spoken “with a loud voice” (v. 42).  The old commentators picked up on this distinction:

Godet notes that while Elisabeth’s words are “full of excitement” what he calls “Mary’s hymn” “breathes a sentiment of deep inward repose,” adding, “The greater happiness is, the calmer it is” (Commentary on St. Luke, p. 62).

Calvin makes a similar observation on the text, noting that Mary “teaches us, too, more than a loud clamorous voice is needed to proclaim God’s praises.”  He continues:  “Often people with no real feeling for God appear white-hot in their fervour.  In the papal church there is four-part singing, and the sound of the organ accompanies men’s voices.  God, we might think, must be greatly pleased with those who bawl his praises!  But does it really edify?”  He concludes that Mary “reveals we cannot truly praise God unless our hearts are first warmed by his kindness; only then can our soul praise and reverence him” (Songs of the Nativity, pp. 25-26).

I’ve noted before Terry Johnson’s comments about worship when he says there is one kind of happiness that one might express with wild cheering at a ball game, but there is another kind of happiness one best expresses with quiet reverence, as at a wedding or a graduation ceremony.  And Biblical worship is of the latter variety.  Mary’s words are happy words and calm words.  Indeed, “The greater happiness is, the calmer it is.”

Monday, June 25, 2012

Calvin's sermons on Luke 1-2

Another source I have found helpful in preaching the opening chapters of Luke’s Gospel is the collection of John Calvin’s selected sermons on Luke 1-2, translated by Robert White under the title Songs of the Nativity (Banner of Truth, 2008).

I used this quote from a Calvin sermon from Luke 1 in last Sunday’s sermon My soul doth magnify the Lord (Luke 1:39-56):

The greatest praise we can render Mary is to take her as our teacher:  she must instruct us, and we will be her pupils.  Not like the papists, who sing masses in her honour, erect altars and chapels, daintily dress her images and sweeten them with incense, yet ignore all she said in the power of God’s Spirit.  We on the contrary must follow her example, and remember that God looked on her with pity.  She should be to us a mirror of God’s mercy.  For in mercy God chose us for himself, sinners though we were, rescued us from the abyss of death and had compassion on us.  Mary is thus set before us as an example to imitate.  With her we acknowledge that we are nothing, that we count for nothing, and are utterly reliant on God’s goodness.  That is how we can be Mary’s pupil, proving by our aptness that we have been attentive to her teaching….  Following her example, we should praise God and learn to rejoice in him (pp. 30-31).

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Godet's "Commentary on St. Luke's Gospel"

Image:  Frederick Louis Godet (1812-1900)

In preparing to preach expositionally through Luke’s Gospel, I began looking for a good commentary to read sequentially through as the series progresses.  I ended up ordering a used copy of Frederick Godet’s A Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke (1881 ed., trans. By E. W. Shalders and M. D. Cusin), that I found on

Godet (1812-1900) was a conservative Swiss theologian who taught at Neuchatel and whose native language was French.  John Murray makes frequent favorable references to Godet’s Romans commentary in his own work on that epistle.

Godet’s Luke commentary is one that Spurgeon recommended to ministerial students in his Commenting& Commentaries, giving this sound-bite from Meyer on the work:   "To an immense erudition, to a living piety, Godet unites a profound feeling of reality; there is here a vivifying breath, an ardent love for the Savior, which helps the disciple to comprehend the work, the acts, the words of his Divine Master."

In his New Testament Commentary Survey (I have the 5th ed. but there is now a 6th), D. A. Carson observes, “Godet is virtually pre-critical, but can be valuable” (p. 57).  That comment actually was the one that made me want to acquire Godet, but probably not for the reason Carson intended.  I don’t see the pre-critical perspective as limiting its value but enhancing it.  In the preface to the commentary, J. Hall notes that Godet brushes aside “the cobwebs which Rationalist or mythical interpreters heap on the inspired page” (iv).

The problem with most modern commentaries (even, and sometimes especially, from evangelicals) is that they are so intent on demonstrating full immersion in modern historical-critical study that they lack spiritual vitality.
Another related issue is that of text.  Modern commentaries, by and large, assume the validity of the modern-critical text and disregard commentary on the traditional text.  In the preface to the first edition of his commentary, Godet, however, observes:

Since I cannot in any way regard the eighth edition of Tichendorf’s text just published as a standard text, though I gratefully acknowledge its aid as absolutely indispensible, I have adopted the received text as a basis in indicating the various readings; but I would express my earnest desire for an edition of the Byzantine text that could be regarded as the standard authority.

So, Godet’s Luke commentary provides what cannot be discovered today, a conservative and evangelical commentary based on the traditional text of the NT.  I wonder what Godet thought of the TR based on Beza (and harmonized with the AV) edited by Scrivener and originally published by Cambridge University Press in 1894 and 1902 (now reprinted by TBS), which would have come out in his lifetime, or would have thought of recent editions of the Majority text by Farstad, et al. and Robinson.  I will be keeping my radar up as I read through the commentary for Godet’s insight into text, among many other things.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Vision (6/21/12): Spurgeon on Authentic Evangelism

Last Wednesday morning I met with a couple of CRBC men at a local coffee shop to begin a summer study of C. H. Spurgeon’s The Soul Winner and to discuss the topic of Biblical evangelism.

After noting that we should want to see the church increase by conversion growth (rather than sheep-stealing), Spurgeon warns that evangelism must be authentic:

But, still, all hurry to get members into the church is most mischievous, both to the church and to the supposed converts. I remember very well several young men, who were of good moral character, and religiously hopeful; but instead of searching their hearts, and aiming at their real conversion, the pastor never gave them any rest till he had persuaded them to make a profession. He thought that they would be under more bonds to holy things if they professed religion, and he felt quite safe in pressing them, for "they were so hopeful." He imagined that to discourage them by vigilant examination might drive them away, and so, to secure them, he made them hypocrites. These young men are, at the present time, much further off from the Church of God than they would have been if they had been affronted by being kept in their proper places, and warned that they were not converted to God. It is a serious injury to a person to receive him into the number of the faithful unless there is good reason to believe that he is really regenerate. I am sure it is so, for I speak after careful observation. Some of the most glaring sinners known to me were once members of a church; and were, as I believe, led to make a profession by undue pressure, well-meant but ill-judged. Do not, therefore, consider that soul-winning is or can be secured by the multiplication of baptisms, and the swelling of the size of your church. What mean these despatches from the battle-field? "Last night, fourteen souls were under conviction, fifteen were justified, and eight received full sanctification." I am weary of this public bragging, this counting of unhatched chickens, this exhibition of doubtful spoils. Lay aside such numberings of the people, such idle pretence of certifying in half a minute that which will need the testing of a lifetime. Hope for the best, but in your highest excitements be reasonable. Enquiry-rooms are all very well; but if they lead to idle boastings, they will grieve the Holy Spirit, and work abounding evil.

May the Lord be pleased to use our flock as in instrument in true evangelism.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

What does Paige Patterson have to do with Jean-Jacques Rousseau?

I am still working my way through Karl Barth’s From Rousseau to Ritschl, in which the neo-orthodox theologian surveys and critiques various Enlightenment figures and assesses their impact on modern theology.  I was struck in particular by his discussion of Rousseau, whom he calls “a kind of martyr to Pelagianism” (p. 106).  It was especially striking in light of the recent semi-Pelagian statement by self-styled SBC “traditionalists.”   One line in the statement, under its second article “The Sinfulness of Man,” states, “We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned.”

Oddly enough, this apparently puts these Southern Baptists in theological league with Rousseau.  Barth concludes that while the celebrated French thinker admitted that men succumb to occasional moral downfalls this “in no way alters the fact that man is fundamentally, essentially, and naturally good, and has remained so.  It is certainly true that his natural goodness does not preventing him from being less good.  But even while he is deteriorating his natural goodness remains.  Rousseau was a confirmed Pelagian, a declared opponent of the Church doctrine of original sin and no free will:  man can in fact be wicked and is wicked times without number; but he is never essentially wicked and need not be so.  He may well do evil but he is not evil.  The charge to be brought against man is relevant only in certain connexion, namely to his existence in society, which brings with it all the evil possibilities we have mentioned…..” (pp. 105-106).

The last part of that quotation is intriguing.  Barth notes that for Rousseau “sin” in not inherent in man (by original sin and total depravity) but is only due to man’s environment.   This calls to mind another line in the Southern Baptist statement which, while denying original sin, states, “every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin” (also in “Article Two:  The Sinfulness of Man”).  Oddly enough, it seems that the “conservative” Southern Baptists who have embraced this “traditional” statement have actually embraced the humanistic, Pelagian anthropology of the Enlightenment.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Textual Note: Luke 1:28

Note:  I ran across this textual issue while preparing to preach last Sunday's message, "With God nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:26-38).

The issue:

The question here is whether or not the phrase “blessed are you among women” should be included in the text.  The traditional text includes the phrase, while the modern critical text excludes it.  This difference is seen by comparing English translations based on each text:

Translations based on traditional text (emphasis added):

Tyndale (1536) Luke 1:28:  And the angel went in unto her, and said: Hail full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

KJV Luke 1:28:   And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

Translations based on modern-critical text:

RSV Luke 1:28:  And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

ESV Luke 1:28:  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

External Evidence:

The traditional reading is supported by A (Alexandrinus), C, D, Theta, family 13, 33, and the vast majority of manuscripts.  It is also the reading of the Syriac, and it appears in the Church Father Eusebius.  Metzger begrudgingly admits that the traditional reading is supported by “fairly good witnesses” (Textual Commentary, p. 129).

The modern critical reading is supported by the “big two” of modern text criticism:  Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.  It is also supported by L, W, Psi, and family 1, as well as by the Church Father Epiphanius of Constantia.

Internal Evidence:

Metzger conjectures, “it is probable that copyist inserted [this phrase] here from v. 42, where they are firmly attested.”  He adds, “If the clause had been original in the present verse, there is no adequate reason why it should have been omitted from a wide diversity of early witnesses….” (p. 129).

In response, however, one might ask if it is also just as likely to conjecture that some copyist might have attempted to remove the phrase because it already appears in v. 42.  In other words, might it reflect an effort to “clean up” the text by removing what some might have perceived as a redundancy?


The traditional reading has significant ancient support, and it was the reading that was adopted in the majority tradition.  The conjecture that scribes removed the contested phrase in light of its use in Luke 1:42 is just as likely as the conjecture that scribes might have added it for the same reason.  There is, then, good reason to retain the traditional reading.


Thomas Watson: Jesus Christ is the sum and quintessence of the gospel

Note:  I concluded last Sunday afternoon's message in the Catechism series on "The Offices of Christ" with this quote from Thomas Watson's "The Body of Divinity":

Jesus Christ is the sum and quintessence of the gospel; the wonder of angels; the joy and triumph of saints.  The name of Christ is sweet, it is music in the ear, honey in the mouth, and cordial [medicine] at the heart.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cove Creek Closing Ceremonies 2012

Image:  2012 Hot Rods take trophies for regular season championship

Image:  Sam R wins 2012 Sportsmanship Award

The regular baseball season at Cove Creek came to an end on Saturday.  Isaiah and Joseph's Hot Rods team in the Rookie League made it to the tournament championship game as the top seed where we were upset by our rivals the Rays.  In the closing ceremonies, we did get acknowledged as the regular season champs, finishing with a record of 14 wins and 4 losses.  Here are the regular season final standings.

Sam's team was also in the 13 year old championship game Saturday where they came up short against the Rangers.  Sam won the Sportsmanship Award on a vote by his peers for the second consecutive year.  He has another month of All-Stars upcoming.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Vision (6/14/12): "Fear not ... for thy prayer is heard."

Note:  Here are some notes adapted from last week’s sermon from Luke 1:5-25.

Luke 1:8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, 9 According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. 11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

The annunciation of John’s birth to Zechariah comes about while he is performing his priestly duties (v. 8).  The lot had fallen for Zechariah to burn incense in the temple of the Lord (v. 9).  The burning of incense is associated in the Bible with prayer.  In John’s vision of heaven in Revelation 8:3-4 he sees an angel with a golden censer who offers up the smoke of the incense “with the prayers of all saints.”

Notice in v. 10 that while Zechariah is doing this work in the temple, outside the people are praying.  For what are they praying?  We might imagine their prayers:  “Oh Lord, forgive us our sins!  Oh Lord, send forth Elijah the prophet who will come before “the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Mal 4:5).  “Oh Lord, send us the Messiah to deliver us!”  In addition to the prayers of the people, there was also the prayer of Zechariah.  His wife was barren and he longed for a child.

Just then, the angel of the Lord appears to Zechariah (v. 11).  Notice his response in v. 12.  He is troubled and fear (phobos) fell upon him.  The presence of God is too great for us to bear, even when it is mediated through his angelic messengers.

Notice the angel’s response, “Fear not, Zecharias, for thy prayer is heard” (v. 13).  This reminds us that the God of the Bible is a prayer hearing God and a prayer answering God.  If an earthly parent would move heaven and earth to respond to the pitiful cries of an injured child, how much more will the heavenly Father reply to the cries of his people in distress and anguish?  Some of you might not know that I have a long scar on my left leg that I received when I was a boy.  I fell while jumping over a creek near my house and badly cut my leg open on an old piece of tin.  The thing that I remember most about that incident is not the injury but the fact that my Dad ran from our home, across a field, to the creek, where he picked me up in his arms and ran back with me to the car to take me to the hospital.  You have to understand that my Dad didn’t run very often.  In fact, I don’t know that I had ever seen him run.  But he ran that day.  Again, if an earthly father can run to help an injured child, what more will our heavenly Father do for his children?

We can find comfort in the knowledge that the Lord hears the prayers of his saints.  He heard the cries of his people, and he heard the personal; prayers of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Could you put your name in the place of Zechariah in v. 13:  “Fear not, ____ for thy prayer is heard.”? 

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Monday, June 11, 2012

The link between the doctrines of the virginal conception and original sin

Note:  We returned to our series through Spurgeon's Catechism Sunday afternoon at CRBC with Question 21:  "How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?"  The catechism stresses that Christ was a real man with a true body and rational soul.  It also gives emphasis to the virginal conception (virgin birth).  Here is an excerpt from my notes where I try to link the importance of the doctrine of the virginal conception in light of the doctrine of original sin:  

The theological point of the doctrine of the virginal conception is that it provided the way that Christ, the Son of God, escaped original sin (being born in sin) and became the spotless Lamb of God and a perfect High Priest.  Compare:

Hebrews 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 7:26 For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;

There is always an attack upon the virginal conception and there is also always an attack on the doctrine of original sin.  Modern liberalism rejected the virgin birth not only because it could not stomach the supernatural and miraculous but also because it could not stomach the fact that men are born sinners in need of a sinless redeemer.  Sadly, the doctrine of original sin has come under attack in our day from those who would consider themselves conservative, evangelical Christians.

Back on May 30, 2012 a group of SBC theologians issued A Statement of theTraditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation, attacking Calvinism and its views on man’s total depravity but along the way they also appear to deny the doctrine of original sin.  One line in the statement, under its second article “The Sinfulness of Man,” states, “We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned.”  In other words, it denies the doctrine of original sin.  It denies that “in Adam’s fall we sinned all” or as Paul put it:  Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom 5:12).

This is, in fact, the revival of an old heresy preached by a British monk years ago named Pelagius who was refuted by Augustine.  In their zeal to deny the sovereignty of God in salvation in the name of defending man’s free will, the framers of this statement appear to have denied the Scripture’s witness to the devastating impact of original sin.  And when we do that we are on a slippery slope to deny the Scriptural teaching of Christ’s virgin birth, because if there is no original sin there is no need for the virgin birth.  There did not need to be a way for Christ to escape that original corruption.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Vision (6/7/12): The Preface to Luke's Gospel and the Reliability of Scripture

Note:  Last Lord’s Day morning we began a new series in the Gospel of Luke at CRBC by meditating on Luke’s unique preface to his work (Luke 1:1-4).  Below are my notes from the exposition of Luke 1:2.
KJV Luke 1:2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;

In v. 2 Luke tells us more about the sources he has used in compiling his Gospel.  First, he notes that the information he has used in compiling his Gospel was “delivered…unto us.”  The verb here is from paradidomi.  It is the verb used for handing down a tradition.  It is the verb Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 11:23 when he describes the right practice of the Lord’s Supper:
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
It is also the same verb Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 15:3 ff. when he describes the gospel he has preached and taught the Corinthians:
15:3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
Some skeptics would want you to believe that the Gospel writers and the scribes who copied the scriptures were haphazard, that the transmission of the Gospel truths was like a game of “Chinese whispers” of “telephone” where the original message gets confused and fuzzy as it is passed from one person to another.  But this is not the notion we get from the way Luke writes.  This was not just any information that was being conveyed.  This was sacred and inspired truth about the Lord Jesus Christ.  And it was to be handled carefully and passed on intact.
Luke stresses that this information was also pure and accurate from the sources, from the very tap.  It came from those who “from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.”  The word for eyewitnesses here is autoptai.  It is the same root as for the English word “autopsy.”  When there is an autopsy there is a call for a close and thorough clinical post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death.  We have here that same sense of a determined and thorough study being done.  Luke is, of course, referring to the fact that the sources he is using to write this Gospel come from the eyewitnesses (autoptai) to the life of Jesus.  Namely, the come from Christ’s own apostles, men like Thomas who touched the wounds of Christ (John 20:27-28), Peter who had been there on the Mount of Transfiguration (cf. 2 Peter 1:16-18), and John who witnessed and had intimate contact with Christ (cf. 1 John 1:1).
Luke is declaring to us that we can trust the accuracy of all that he will tell us of Jesus, because it comes from those who witnessed the life and deeds of Christ firsthand.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle