Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Interpreting a difficult text: Galatians 3:20

Note:  I preached Sunday from Galatians 3:15-22, which meant attempting an interpretation of a notorious textus difficilis.  Here are some notes:
"Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one" (Galatians 3:20).
Paul’s comment in v. 20 is notoriously difficult to interpret.  The Puritan expositor Mathew Poole noted:  “This is a text acknowledged by all interpreters to be very obscure. “  John Brown in 1853 observed:  “Perhaps no passage in Scripture has received so many interpretations as this” (Galatians, p. 155).  He then cites a scholar of his day who traced no less than 250 different interpretations of this verse!  The Dutch scholar Hermann Ridderbos in 1953 said there are at least 430 interpretations of this verse (matching the 430 years of v. 17) (Galatians, p. 139).
Some immediate questions might be posed:  Is the mediator here Moses, or angels (v. 19), or Christ, or any mediator?  Is Paul making a positive, approving statement here, or is he quoting something his opponents have been saying?  Is he contrasting the promise to Abraham and the giving of the law through Moses?
Luther interpreted the verse as follows:  “God offendeth no man, and therefore needeth no mediator; but we offend God, and therefore we need a mediator” (as cited in Brown, p. 156).
If we are to attempt an interpretation we should look to the opening section of the verse:  “Now a mediator is not a mediator one....”  This seems to be simply making the obvious point that if there is a mediator he must be mediating between two conflicting or opposing parties.  Paul then adds:  “but God is one.”  This seems to point to the fact that there is no inherent self-contradiction in God.  He does not have self-contradictory motives.  He does not act inconsistently.  The larger point:  God did not enter into covenant with Abraham and justify him by faith, then later decide that he had a better idea and gave the law through Moses so that men could be justified by law keeping.  The giving of the law, then, does not contradict the unconditional covenant of faith that God made with Abraham.
This interpretation is supported by the next question in v. 21:  “Is the law then against the promises of God?”  Does the giving of the law contradict the promise given to Abraham (in Genesis 22:18)?  Paul’s answer: God forbid!  Me genoito!  Let not such a thing be even imagined or uttered aloud!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Vision (4/25/13): Being Made a Curse For Us

Note: I preached Sunday from Galatians 3:6-15.  Here are some notes from the exposition of Galatians 3:13:


“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).


Notice first the language of redemption or ransom (“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us….”).  The verb for “to redeem” in Greek is exagorazo, which literally means “to take off or away from the market [agora].”  In the ancient world, prisoners of war could be redeemed or ransomed from their captors by the exchange of money.  Slaves could also purchase or redeem their freedom by paying the right price.


Notice also the concept of substitution.  We were under the curse of the law which is the wrath of God for our sin (refer back to the citation from Deut 27:26 in Galatians 3:10).  But the Lord Jesus stepped into our place and was made a curse for us.  The just stood in the place of the unjust.


Where was Jesus made a curse for us?  It was on the cross.  That is made clear in v. 13 as Paul quotes Deuteronomy 21:23:  “Cursed is every one that hangeth from a tree.”  The ancient Hebrews did not know about crucifixion.  That would only come later with the Persians and then the Romans.  The passage probably speaks about the practice of hanging or impaling the bodies of criminals to posts or trees. Paul and the first Christians saw in this passage a hidden or veiled reference to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  There he took on our curse; he was shamed; he was mocked; he was denounced; he bore the wrath and indignation of God that we deserved.


One of the reports from the Boston massacre bombing I heard was about a father who when the bomb went off immediately threw himself upon his two children to shield them from any harm.  The message of the cross is that when Jesus suffered and died he overshadowed his saints and took upon himself the curse that was due to us for our disobedience.  God has demonstrated his love toward us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.


Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Text Note: Galatians 3:1

The issue:

I ran across this textual issue when preaching week before last on Galatians 3:1-5.  The traditional text includes two phrases that are omitted in the modern critical text. The variations can be seen in comparison of English translations (emphasis added):

Traditional text:

KJV Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?


Modern critical text:


NASB Galatians 3:1 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?


External Evidence:


The first phrase “that ye should obey the truth” is supported by codices C, D (second corrector), Psi, and the vast majority of manuscripts.  It is also found in the Vulgate (Clementine ed.), the Syriac Harclean, and some manuscripts of Jerome.  The omission is supported by the heavyweights Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, as well as Alexandrinus.  It is also supported by some Latin manuscripts, the Syriac Peshitta, the Coptic version, and other manuscripts of Jerome.


The second phrase “among you” is supported by D, F, G, and the majority.  It is supported as well by the Old Latin, the Vulgate (Clementine ed.), and the Syriac Harclean.  Its omission is supported, as with the previous phrase, by Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus.  It is also supported by the “Stuttgart Vulgate” and the Coptic.


Internal Evidence:


Metzger’s Textual Commentary completely ignores discussion of the first phrase in Galatians 3:1 (pp. 593-594).  Of the latter, he simply notes that this is the Textus Receptus reading while stating that the modern critical text is “decisively supported” by the likes of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.


Nestle-Aland makes reference in the apparatus for the first variation to Galatians 5:7 where the identical phrase appears.  The assumption must be that some text wrongly inserted the phrase into 3:1 from 5:7.  There are some logical questions, however, that we might pose.  First, could the appearance of the exact phrase in Galatians 5:7 simply demonstrate that this is, in fact, an authentic Pauline usage?  Second, is it not just as possible to imagine that a scribe might have omitted the phrase given its appearance in 5:7 as to imagine that he inserted it based on this same knowledge?  Third, would a scribe have been likely to take such liberties in inserting a phrase not in near proximity in the text to the verse in question?


As for the second variation, the phrase “among you [en humin]” appears numerous times in the Pauline corpus (e.g., in at least six verses in Romans; seventeen verses in 1 Corinthians; etc.).  It appears in three other verses in Galatians (3:5; 4:19, 20).  The assumption of the modern critical text must be that it was inserted by some scribe, perhaps knowing its typically Pauline usage.  Given that the phrase is a proven Paulinism might it not be just as well be assumed that it appeared in the original (a mark of Pauline authenticity) and was later omitted by scribal error?


No doubt, underlying the decisions of modern critical text editors is the assumption that the shorter text is to be preferred to the fuller.  Again, however, this is an assumption and not a proven fact.




As with so many textual matters in the NT, the evaluation of external evidence boils down either to accepting the traditional witness of the majority or accepting the minority witness of the tradition represented by Sinaticus and Vaticanus.  There is no compelling internal argument as to why the phrases might have been inserted and no reason to deny the possibility that they simply might have been omitted by scribal error or intention.  The fuller reading of the traditional text should stand until more convincing reasons are given for its abandonment.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Vision (4/18/13): God is our Refuge and Strength

As I sat down to write a pastoral note for this week’s Vision, I thought of all the unsettling things that have happened over the last seven days, with the bombings in Boston and now the tremendous explosion in West, Texas.  I debated whether or not to address the subject.  On the con side was the fact that I already had some quotations on the life of Jesus I was planning to share.  More importantly I began to wonder how many other ministers would attempt to write something about these events in their pastoral epistles this week and also about how hard it is to write about such things without sounding unoriginal, trite, or clich├ęd.

Then, I remembered our Lord and how in his earthly ministry he was asked about tragedies of his day (some Galileans killed by Pontius Pilate; a tower that fell and crushed eighteen people; see Luke 13:1-5).  Some were asking Jesus whether those who suffered were being punished for their sins.  Jesus’ answer was that those who suffered these things were no worse than any other sinner who deserves God’s wrath every moment of every day.  Yet the Lord in his mercy spares most of us from the daily experience of such tragedy.  We rarely are aware of his constant mercy in shielding us from such things, much less do we stop to express thanksgiving to him for these ordinary graces.  Jesus’ challenge to those who asked about the tragedies of his day was this:  “but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5).  If Jesus used such occasions to encourage clear and sober thinking then perhaps we may as well.

Here are at least two lessons that come to mind: 

First, when we hear of such terrible things we are reminded that it is the Lord who has given us every moment of peace and stability we have ever enjoyed.  We are correspondingly convicted that we have too often taken our security and prosperity for granted.  Did you go through your day today with no worries that your life or the lives of those you love might end suddenly and tragically?  In that case, God is to be thanked.

Second, we are also reminded that whatever the turmoil and hardship of life we have a shelter and refuge in the Lord.  In the days after September 11, 2001, many found comfort in the opening verses of Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.


Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;


Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.


They still hold a lot of weight.  The apostle Paul could write from a prison cell:  “for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

May the Lord grant us wisdom and discernment as we process and evaluate all that we see, hear of, and directly experience in the world to make us more grateful to God and more content in his blessings.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Some Suggestions for Writing Successful Essays

Note:  It's getting close to exam time.  Here are some hints I've shared with students for writing successful exam essays:

1.     Carefully read and understand the essay topic before you begin.

2.     Answer all parts of the question or essay topic.

3.     Before the exam, take notes and make an outline to help you formulate and practice how you will write the essay.

4.     Look at your lecture notes and the reading material to find specific and accurate information to use in your essay to support your argument.

5.     Take a clear position and make a reasonable argument for it.

6.     Use full paragraphs of 3-4 sentences in writing the essay.

7.      Begin each part of the essay question with a new paragraph.

8.     Write in complete, simple sentences.

9.     Avoid compound and run-on sentences.

10.  Use proper grammar.

11.  In formal writing, avoid contractions (e. g., “It is…” rather than “It’s…”, etc.).

12.  Try to use active rather than passive verbs (e. g., “Paul wrote Romans.” instead of, “Romans was written by Paul.”).

13.  Spell important terms correctly.

14.  Avoid vague, subjective, or general statements and claims that you have not proven or substantiated (e. g., “I really like Paul, because he is such an interesting writer.”).

15.  After you finish writing the essay, read over it to check for content, grammar, and spelling.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Vision (4/11/13): The Redefinition of Greatness

Note:  Last Sunday I preached from Luke 9:46-50 on Christ’s “redefinition of greatness.”  Here are some of the notes from the closing applications from the passage:

1.     Have you sought greatness for yourself according to the pattern of this world?


In Jeremiah 45:5 the prophet Jeremiah wrote to his young friend Baruch saying, “And seekest thou great things for thyself?  Seek them not” (Jeremiah 45:5).


The American poet Emily Dickenson lived largely in obscurity as a recluse and had very little of her writings published in her lifetime.  In one poem titled “Success” she wrote the opening couplet:


Success is counted sweetest

By those who ne’er succeed.


In that poem I think she was pondering and even lamenting her lack of success or greatness.  This same sort of angst was in the hearts of the disciples of Jesus.


Do you see Jesus placing a weak child beside himself and saying, “As you serve this weakest brother you are in fact serving me, and if you serve me, you serve the God who sent me, the God who made you and all the creation.  If you will empty yourself of all pride and all ambition and all self-seeking and become the least of all, you will become the greatest in my kingdom.”?


2.      Do you have a charitable and a catholic (small “c” meaning “universal”) spirit toward those who love the Lord Jesus and are doing things that serve him, even if they do not inhabit your ecclesiastical circle?


Do you hear this in Jesus’ command to John concerning the one casting out demons in Jesus’ name who was not one of the twelve:  “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.”? (Luke 9:50).


Do you understand that this is not a call to drop or compromise your convictions or to hold them less tightly, but, in fact, to hold firmly onto those convictions, even while respecting those who also know Jesus and are working for him but whose conviction have led them to be part of a churchly fellowship apart from one’s own?


What matters is not whether you control them, but whether Christ controls them.


3.      Do you see how Jesus has redefined greatness and how he has redefined power?


The apostle Paul certainly did.  This is why he could write:  “and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8). Or:  “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake:  for when I am weak, then I am strong” (1 Corinthians 12:10).


Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Second Commandment, the Regulative Principle, and Puritan Logic

How does one get from the second commandment to the Regulative Principle of Worship?  Here is the logic of Thomas Vincent in his exposition of the Shorter Catechism: 
God's forbidding the making of any graven image, and worshipping of it, doth clearly imply--
1.    That God must be worshipped by some means.
2.  That is a sin to worship God by graven images.
3.  That by consequence, it is a sin to worship God by means he hath not appointed in his word.
4.   That therefore it is a duty to worship God by the means which he has appointed, which being his ordinances, they must be received, observed, and kept pure and entire.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Thomas Vincent outlines twelve elements of Scriptural worship

Note:  In our Sunday pm services at CRBC I am working my way through the exposition of the Ten Commandments in Spurgeon's Baptist Catechism. Sunday we looked at the requirements of the second commandment, including the implications for worship.  As elsewhere in this series, I have leaned heavily on the Thomas Vincent's exposition The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture (Banner of Truth, 1674, 1980).  Here are some notes from Sunday's message outlining Vincent's listing of eleven Scriptural worship elements:
In this exposition of the second commandment, Thomas Vincent asks:  “What is the way and means which God hath appointed for his worship?” and he answers:  “The only way and means which God hath appointed for his worship, are his ordinances, which he hath prescribed in his Word.”
Here is the heart of what is called the “regulative principle” of worship.  If we are negatively to avoid “graven images” we must positively worship God has he has prescribed or regulated in his Word.
Vincent offers the following list of ordinances for worship which God has appointed in his word (he does so with various prooftexts of which I have only selected one or two):
1.      Prayer unto God with thanksgiving and that publicly in assemblies, privately in families, and secretly in closets.
Philppians 4:6:  “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.”
2.      Reading and searching the Scriptures.

John 5:39:  “Search the Scriptures, for in them ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me.”

3.      Preaching and hearing of the word.
1 Timothy 4:2:  “Preach the word; be instant in season and out of season; repove, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and doctrine.”
4.      Singing of psalms.
James 5:13:  “Is any merry?  Let him sing psalms.”
5.      Administration and receiving of the sacraments, both of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20.

1 Corinthians 11:24:  “This do in remembrance of me.”
6.      Fasting.

Luke 5:35 says that when the Bridegroom is taken away “they will fast in those days.”
7.      Instructing of children and households in the law of the Lord.
Ephesians 4:8:  “And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath but raise them up in  the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
8.      Conference and discourse of the things of God.
Deuteronomy 6:7:  “Thou shalt talk of them when thou sittest down , and when thou riseth up.”
9.      Meditation.
1 Timothy 4:15:  “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them, that they profiting may appear unto all.”
10.  Vows to the Lord.
Psalm 126:11:  “Vow and pay unto the Lord.”
JTR:  This might include covenant marriage vows, church membership vows, and vows made by church officers.
11.    Swearing by the name of the Lord, when lawfully called.
Deuteronomy 6:13:  “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.”

12.  Exercise of church discipline.
Matthew 18:15-17.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Godet on the "separate stones scattered" in the Gospels

While expositing Luke 9:49-50 and parallels, Frederick Godet describes how the interpreter draws on all four Gospels to reconstruct the life and teachings of Jesus (Commentary on St. Luke’s Gospel, p. 280):

Thus, it very often happens, that by bringing together separate stones scattered about in our three narratives, we succeed in reconstructing large portions of the edifice, and then by joining it to the Gospel of John, the entire building.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Blomberg on the Virgin Birth and the problems with "a-confessional evangelicalism"

I’ve been working my way through Craig Blomberg’s Jesus and the Gospels, Second Ed. (B & H Academic, 2009) in the Life of Jesus class I’m teaching this semester.  Blomberg represents what are some of the best and worst aspects of evangelical scholarship which attempts to use all the modern historical-critical tools, while at the same time trying to maintain and defend various traditional, pre-critical perspectives (e. g., affirming purported authorship of the canonical Gospels, historicity of those Gospels, etc.).  For a critique of evangelical scholarly embrace of modern critical methods in Gospel research and a charge that this necessarily leads to compromise (including particular criticism of Blomberg), see Robert F. Thomas, Ed. The Jesus Crisis:  The Inroads of Historical Criticism into Evangelical Scholarship (Kregel, 1998).

My sense is that the difficulties with Blomberg arise not only from his embracing modern historical-critical method (e. g., embracing Markan priority and the two source theory) but also, and more significantly, from his lack of a clear confessional framework in approaching the Bible and Christian theology.  Like most evangelicals he seems to approach the NT with definite “conservative” doctrinal presuppositions but not from a clearly defined, historical, creedal perspective.  We might well describe this position as a-confessional evangelicalism.

This stands out in particular in his treatment of the virgin birth (i. e., virginal conception) in Jesus and the Gospels.  On one hand, Blomberg offers cautious but clear reasons why the virginal conception might be reasonably defended as historical.  He notes in particular that conclusions reached on the virgin bith, as with other supernatural aspects of the Gospels, depend on one’s presuppositions:  “Of course, if one rules out the supernatural a priori, there is much here [in Matthew and Luke’s teaching of the virginal conception] that will have to be dismissed or radically reinterpreted” (p. 243).  He notes that the Gospel descriptions of the virginal conception are given in a “straightforward” manner without “embellishments” (p. 243).  He argues that the Semitic style of the birth narratives in both Matthew and Luke suggests the use of early source material for this tradition.  He concludes that “early Christians would never have invented the narratives of the virginal conception itself” and notes that “Luke’s narrative shows remarkable restraint compared to various Greco-Roman myths of ‘virgin births’” (p. 244).  He adds: “Narrators creating pious legends usually go into much more detail than Luke does here” (p. 244).  He sums up:  “All of these observations make it highly unlikely that the church would have included these accounts unless there were strong historical reasons for doing so” (p. 244).

If left here, one might commend Blomberg for his thoughtful defense of the historicity of the virginal conception.  However, he then proceeds to offer reflections on the theological significance of the virginal conception.  He opens by downplaying the doctrine noting that “it neither proves the incarnation nor is demanded by it” (p. 244).  He  concludes:  “Given how little the New Testament and even the Gospels make of this doctrine it probably does not deserve to rank among the top five fundamentals of the faith [a footnote here references Dixon and Meyer’s The Fundamentals].  Yet it remains a cherished truth not to be glibly denied or explained away” (p. 245).

This conclusion follows an apologetic approach which Blomberg uses elsewhere in this work.  He defends the historical and critical plausibility of a traditional perspective but then concludes that even if the viewpoint is found to be untenable its loss would be inconsequential to an orthodox position.  For example, in his discussion of the authorship of the Gospel of Mark, Blomberg ably defends the traditional view that the Gospel was written by John Mark in consultation with the apostle Peter but then concludes:  “Little of interpretive significance depends on whether or not Mark was the author, but modern objections scarcely outweigh the unanimous testimony of the early church” (p. 140; he reaches similar conclusions on Matthew, p. 156; Luke, p. 174; and John, p. 201).

Whatever the apologetic reasoning, it is striking to read an evangelical scholar willing to abandon the virginal conception as a foundation (fundamental) Biblical doctrine.  Yes, as my daughter pointed out to me in a family devotion discussion of the resurrection over Easter weekend, Paul did not include the virgin birth in his summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, but still the virginal conception has long been affirmed as essential and foundational to Christian faith, particularly in its creedal tradition, based on its unequivocal presence in the Gospels (Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:26-27, 30-31, 34-35; cf. also subtle or ironic references to the virginal conception in the Gospels which do not include explicit birth narratives:  Mark 6:3; John 5:18; 6:42; 8:19, 41; 16:28); in addition, cf. a possible Pauline reference in Galatians 4:4).  The oldest post-canonical Christian symbol, the Apostles’ creed, originating in the mid second century affirms that Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” The doctrine then becomes firmly embedded in the confessional tradition, including, eventually, the Westminster/London Baptist Confessions.  Consider chapter eight, paragraph two of the London Confession on “Of Christ the Mediator” (emphasis added):

The Son of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Father's glory, of one substance and equal with him who made the world, who upholdeth and governeth all things he hath made, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit coming down upon her: and the power of the Most High overshadowing her; and so was made of a woman of the tribe of Judah, of the seed of Abraham and David according to the Scriptures; so that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion; which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.

(John 1:14; Galatians 4;4; Romans 8:3; Hebrews 2:14, 16, 17; Hebrews 4:15; Matthew 1:22, 23; Luke 1:27, 31, 35; Romans 9:5; 1 Timothy 2:5)

Given the strong Biblical and confessional emphasis given to the doctrine of the virginal conception and its significance for understanding the person and nature of Christ, as emphasized especially in the creedal tradition, Blomberg’s conclusion that it does not rank among the cardinal Christian doctrines is incomprehensible.  It illustrates the dangers of joining evangelical Biblical scholarship to the historical-critical method without a clear confessional framework.