Friday, November 29, 2013

The Vision (11.29.13): Thanksgiving

Emily Dickenson’s poem “Thanksgiving Day” begins with this stanza:

                                         One day is there of the series
                                                       Termed Thanksgiving day,
                                          Celebrated part at table,
                                                       Part in memory.
The Psalms of the Old Testament were both the hymn book and the prayer book of the Old Testament church.  There are various genres or types of psalms in this collection of 150 songs.  There are what scholars call “psalms of remembrance” in which the inspired author provides a celebratory record of God’s past deeds.  Psalm 136 is an example of this with its constant refrain, “for his mercy endureth for ever.”
There are also “psalms of thanksgiving” in which the author recalls a time of struggle or difficulty in which the Lord graciously interceded to provide relief and deliverance.  An example is Psalm 30 which begins, “I will extol thee, O LORD; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me” (v. 1).  It concludes, “O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.”

There are also “psalms of confidence” in which the inspired writer expresses a quiet confidence in God.  The premier example is Psalm 23 which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

In this season of Thanksgiving, celebrated “part in memory,” can we do as the psalms teach and remember God’s goodness, give thanks for his deliverance, and express our quiet trust and confidence in him?
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Vision (11.21.13): Oh that we may kiss the rod!

A couple of weeks ago as I was teaching through the book of Job in my Old Testament class, I  noted that though perhaps Job did not curse God, he did voice no little despair at his severe trials.  In fact, he even despised the day of his birth:  “May the day perish on which I was born” (Job 3:3a).  Job ends, of course, with God speaking out of the whirlwind.  Job and his friend had placed God on trial, but now the tables are turned, as the Lord asks, “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me” (Job 38:3).  The Lord asks Job where he was when he created the world and all its creatures.  The point:  His ways are higher than our ways, his thoughts than our thoughts.  The Lord’s speech ends with him challenging Job:  “Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?  He who rebukes God, let him answer it.” (Job 40:2). A chastened Job answers, “Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You?  I lay my hand over my mouth” (v. 4).  As I told the class, I think what happens here is that Job becomes a Calvinist.  He humbles himself in the knowledge of the sovereign Godhood of God.

I was listening to an interview on the radio this week with a woman who said, “I was raised Baptist [and not charismatic].  We were taught not to pray that God would take away our troubles but that he would give us the grace to walk through them.”

When Sarah Edwards, wife of colonial theologian Jonathan Edwards, learned that her husband had died in 1758 at age 54 after complications from taking a small pox vaccine, she is reported to have said to her children:  What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart.”

What trials have you undergone or will you undergo in the future?  Will you place God on trial and question his justice, fairness, and goodness?  Or will you kiss the rod and lay your hand on your mouth?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reflections on Text, Canon, and Translation from Carl Amerding's "The Old Testament and Criticism"

I recently finished reading Carl E. Amerding’s The Old Testament and Criticism (Eerdmans, 1983).  In general I do not share Amerding’s optimism that “a moderately critical approach” to the OT is “fully consistent” with the evangelical view of revelation (p. 9).

The book’s review of literary (i.e., source) and form criticism now seems dated (pp. 21-66), as does, even more especially, the extended discussion of structural analysis (pp. 67-96). Of more lasting value is Amerding’s survey of OT text criticism (pp. 97-127).

I was particularly struck, for example, by Amerding’s observation that the development of the Old Testament canon involved not only the designation of the authoritative books that would be included in the canon but also the authoritative texts of those books:

But what was considered Scripture in this period?  As might be expected, the time from Ezra through the first Christian century was also the time when the Jewish list or canon of books became well established.  Moreover the development of an authoritative text is a natural corollary to an authoritative list of books….. (p. 101).

I remember when I suggested the connection between canon and text in the online debate with Jamin Hubner over the NT text, and he dismissed such a view as novel and obscurantist.  I have continued to raise this as an objection against the oft repeated argument of evangelicals who embrace the modern critical text that there are no major “doctrinal” issues involved in textual criticism.  Clearly, the canon of Scripture is a key doctrinal issue, and canon involves not only books but the texts of those books.

I was also struck by Amerding’s review of increasing departures in modern English translations from the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible in favor of readings and conjectural emendations drawn from the LXX, the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.  Amerding calls attention, in particular, to the groundbreaking role of the Revised Standard Version in these departures from the traditional text:

A new era began with the publication of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the complete Bible in 1952. Not only did the revisers break with an old but now dated tradition by using the 1937 BH3 as their basic OT text, but they opened the door to a limited number of textual emendations, particularly where the LXX or another VS lent support.  Even a few readings of the DSS of Isaiah were included, although little work on the textual reliability of Qumran had been done at that time.  In general it should be noted that the RSV, despite its pioneering stance, remained reasonably conservative in its departure from the MT….

Once the barn door had been opened, however, it almost seemed as though all the horses fled at once!  A host of private and committee-produced translations have appeared since the RSV, some of which seem to treat the MT tradition with far less respect than previous custom…. (p. 116).  

This is a reminder that the issue of text is no longer limited to the NT alone, as the traditional (MT) text of the OT has been challenged by modern translations, with such challenges pioneered by the RSV.  This also explains why the ESV, following in the RSV tradition, so often provides OT translations based on textual emendations from the versions, etc. (see here for an example).

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What did Peter mean by "the gospel preached also to them that are dead" in 1 Peter 4:6?

Last Sunday evening during our Lynchburg meeting one of the college students asked me about the meaning of 1 Peter 4:6:  For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.”  What does Peter mean by the reference to “the gospel” being “preached to the dead”?

Here are some follow ups:

First, the Greek does not include the noun euangelion for “gospel” but the verb euangelizomai “to evangelize” or “to gospel-ize.”  So, the phrase in question reads:  eis touto gar kai nekrois euengelisthe and can be literally rendered, “For this reason also it was gospelized to the dead….”

Second, whatever Peter was saying here, we know that according to the analogia scripturae he was not teaching post-mortem evangelism in the sense of the wicked having the opportunity to hear and believe the gospel after death, a false interpretation sometimes drawn from misunderstanding of 1 Peter 3:19.  Such a view would contradict the teaching of Scripture elsewhere (cf. Matt 10:32-33; Luke 16:25-26; Heb 9:27).   

Third, there are at least two reasonable possibilities of interpretation.  First, it is possible that Peter is speaking here about the evangelization of those who were spiritually dead in their unregenerate state but who were made alive when they received the effectual call, were converted, repented, and believed the gospel.  Indeed, the metaphor of conversion as the transformation from death to life is central in the NT (cf. Luke 15:24, 32; Rom 6:4; Eph 2:1).  Second, it is possible that Peter is speaking here about the benefits of salvation to believers who have experienced physical death.

Fourth, here are some interpretations of the passage from various commentators:

John Calvin (Commentary on 1 Peter, 1551):  Calvin takes the reference as saying “even that death does not hinder Christ from being always our defender. It is then a remarkable consolation to the godly.  Though Christ, then, may not appear a deliverer in this life, yet his redemption is not void, or without effect; for his power extends to the dead.”

Matthew Poole (Commentary on 1 Peter, 1683):    Poole notes that “them that are dead” refers either to: “(1) spiritually dead, i.e., dead in sin, viz. then when the gospel was preached to them; or (2) Naturally, dead, viz. when the Apostle wrote this epistle.”  On the latter possibility, he adds that reference to their being “judged according to men in the flesh” but living “according to God in the Spirit” refers to the removal of “the scandal of these Christians, being reproached and condemned by unbelievers for their strictness in religion, and nonconformity to the world.” Though “condemned by men in the flesh” in this life, they are vindicated God “ending in a life with him in the other.”

Edmond Hiebert (1 Peter, 1984):  Hiebert says the verse “has been described as the most difficult text of the Bible” (p. 265).  A key question:  “How is the term ‘dead’ to be understood?”  He offers the following possibilities:

(1)  “One view understands it to refer to the spiritually dead to whom the gospel is preached so that they might enter spiritual life” (p. 266)

(2) “Others relate the preaching to the dead with the preaching of Christ in 3:19 as an event that took place during the interval between his death and resurrection.”

(3) “A widely accepted view is that those described as ‘dead’ were members of the Christian churches addressed but had died before the writing of 1 Peter.”

Hiebert seems to favor this view, adding, “The fact that they had died like other men might raise the question of whether their new faith had gained them anything.  In the eyes of their opponents, they seemed to have gained nothing.    Though they claimed to have received a new life, they died like other mortals.  Peter assured them that though they had died, they would fully share in the life brought by the Savior” (p. 267).

Thomas R. Schreiner (1, 2, Peter, Jude, 2003):  “Peter considered the case of believers who had died physically.  These people heard and believed the gospel when they were alive but had subsequently died.  Unbelievers viewed the death of believers as proof that there is no advantage in becoming a believer, for all without exception die.  Peter indicated, however, that unbelievers do not understand the whole picture.  Even though from a human perspective believers seem to gain no benefits from their faith since they die, from God’s perspective (which is normative), they live according to the Spirit” (p. 208).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Vision (11.14.13): Epistles

It is noteworthy that a large portion of the New Testament consists of letters written from apostles and leaders (like Paul, Peter, James, and John) to the early churches. Many of those letters provide updates on ministry, material needs, doctrinal teaching, and prayer concerns.

I thought of that in recent days as I received several letters (emails) from ministers serving abroad.

One note came from Andy and Beth Rice, missionaries in Zambia, whom our church supports through monthly giving:

Dear Pastor Jeff & Christ Reformed Baptist Church,

Greetings from Lusaka, Zambia. God is glorious and worthy of all our adoration and praise. Our desire is to be worshippers who hold Jesus up above ourselves and even above our ministries. We are thankful to be your missionaries in Africa and we desire to glorify God through the opportunities He gives us. God has been good toward us through the grace given us in Jesus Christ, but also in His provision and protection which He has shown to us as we have transitioned to this new ministry.

We are both busy teaching, mentoring, and reaching out to the people of Lusaka. Those we are working the most closely with live in the compounds which are the poorest sections of the city. They face many financial difficulties, but are rich in faith and love. We are thankful for their desire to grow in Christ and learn His Word. In fact, it is a motivation for our own spiritual growth and development.

We want to thank you for the financial support which you are giving toward our mission. Without your support and the prayers of God’s people we would not be here. You have been and continue to be partners with us in this mission of training pastors and their wives in Zambia. Your partnership and friendship is an encouragement to us and we want to thank you for all that you do for us.

Through the power of the Cross, Andy & Beth

Another was a brief letter shared on a Reformed Baptist ministers’ list from a Pastor of a Reformed Baptist Church in the Philippines:

Dear Brethren

The church is doing benevolence work for the churches affected by the devastating storm, Haiyan or Yolanday. We already have a team that left for Leyte and will be sending another soon to survey needs. Please check our website for updates on specific requirements and how you may help. 

Thank you, Pastor Jose Francis "Nene" Martinez

May the Lord continue to work through his faithful servants in places all over the world.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Young and Longman on the Genre and Historicity of Esther

In preparation for teaching Survey of the Old Testament this semester, I’ve been reading several introductory works on the OT.  On one hand, I’ve been working my way through Edward J. Young’s An Introduction to the Old Testament, Revised Edition (Eerdmans, 1964).  Young taught OT at Westminster Seminary, was fully conversant with modern historical-critical study of the OT, yet largely rejected it, and defended traditional, pre-critical understandings of the OT, including affirmations of its historicity.  On the other hand, I’ve also been reading Tremper Longman III’s Introducing the Old Testament (Zondervan, 2012; an abridgement of Longman and Dillard’s An Introduction to the Old Testament).  Longman is a contemporary evangelical who attempts to bridge the divide between naturalistic modern historical-critical and traditional approaches to the OT.

The contrast between Young and Longman is evident at numerous points along the way in their handling of the OT.  While Young tenaciously defends the general historical reliability of the OT accounts (creation, exodus, conquest, etc.), Longman offers an excursus on “theological history” in which he argues that one need not defend the historical veracity of OT details in order to appreciate its theological purposes (pp. 84-85).  Thus, Longman states:  “While not all narrative texts are necessarily historical (e. g., Job) and not all historical texts are concerned with the same measure of precision of historical reporting (e. g., Gen. 1—11), historical narrative is important in the Old Testament” (p. 84).  He urges readers to distinguish “between writing about past events and the events themselves,” noting:  “Historical narrative is a representation of the events and involves literary artifice” (p. 84).

I was struck by the divergence of these approaches this week as I read both authors on the genre and historicity of Esther.

Though Longman’s interpretation of Esther is “conservative” in that he does not see the work as purely a work of fiction, he is only willing to offer the tepid affirmation that it is historical “in its broad outline”:

Like Ruth, Esther has been catalogued as a short story or novella, often with the implication that it is a work of fiction.  However, the highly artistic nature of the storytelling does not preclude the idea that the book is telling a story that, at least in broad outline, actually happened in space and time.  Debate will continue, since, while classical and cuneiform sources by and large demonstrate the author’s familiarity with Persian mores and court life, there remain some problems with the historical details of the book (p. 82).

In sharp contrast is Young’s analysis of Esther’s historicity (pp. 355-56).  He acknowledges:  “By many modern scholars, the historicity of the book is completely denied and it is regarded as nothing more than a historical romance” (p. 355).  After sifting through the evidence, Young reaches a conclusion typical for his Introduction:

However, in light of the remarkable historical and geographical accuracy of the book, and in view of the extremely weak character of the arguments adduced against that historicity, in view of the fact that the book purports to be straightforward history and is lacking in the fancy that characterizes mere romances, we believe that the only correct interpretation is to regard the work as strictly historical (p. 357).

These contrasting conclusions highlight two divergent approaches to the study of the Old Testament, the assimilation of modern historical-critical scholarship, and the affirmation of Biblical authority.  Upon reflection it appears to me that the contrast between Young and Longman is not merely that between a “fundamentalistic” and an “evangelical” approach, but that between a “confessional” and a “non-confessional” approach.  Young’s insistence on the historicity of Esther (and the rest of the OT) flows from his commitment to the infallibility of Scripture as expressed in chapter one of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

CRBC Sunday School Lesson and Discussion on Baptismal Mode (11.10.13)

I posted the audio from last Lord's Day's Sunday School discussion at CRBC on the subject of baptismal mode.  I also posted a pdf of the PowerPoint I used for the lesson.  We only do this class after lunch once of a month (on the second Sunday) in place of our afternoon worship, since I have to leave early to preach at a local retirement home.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thomas Vincent: Ten Ways to Keep the Seventh Commandment

Note:  In my series through Spurgeon’s Baptist Catechism, I have been making heavy use of the Puritan Thomas Vincent’s exposition of the Shorter Catechism.  Here is an excerpt from my part 2 sermon on the Seventh Commandment in which I made use of this adaptation from Vincent:

Thomas Vincent on 10 ways to preserve one’s chastity and thus keep the seventh commandment:

1.  By watchfulness:

a.  Over our hearts and spirits, to oppose uncleanness in the first desires of it and inclinations of the heart to it, and risings of it in the thoughts.  Proverbs 4:23:  “Keep thy heart with all diligence.”

b.  Over our senses; our eyes, to turn them away from such objects as may provoke lust.  Job said he made a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully upon a maiden (Job 31:1).  Our ears, to shut them against lascivious discourse; we must watch also against such touches and wanton dalliances as may be an incentive to unchaste desires, and take heed of all light and lewd company, and watch to avoid all occasions, and resist temptations to uncleanness.  When Joseph was approached by Potiphar’s wife he refused, saying, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen 39:9).

2.  By diligence in our callings:

His point is that temptation to unchastity often arises out of idleness.  Thus, he urges that our bodies and minds be busily employed so that we might be preserved from unclean practices and desires which idle persons are prone unto.  Proverbs 31 describes the virtuous woman as one who does not eat “the bread of idleness.”

3.  By temperance in eating and drinking:

Vincent argues that excess in either tends to pamper the body and so excite lust.  In Jeremiah 5:8, the prophet describes his own generation as overfed horses who “neighed after” their neighbor’s wife.  The Proverbs wisely warns against drunkenness which leads men to “behold strange women” and to utter “perverse things” (Proverbs 23:33).

4.  By abstinence, and keeping under the body, when there is need, with frequent fastings.

5.  By the fear of God, and awful apprehension of his presence and all seeing-eye. 

All sin, in fact, we might say is an act of practical atheism.  Consider:

Proverbs 5:20 And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? 21 For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings.

We cannot justify unchastity as a “victimless sin” if done among consenting adults or if done in the privacy of one’s inner thought life.  All is seen by God.  And all sin, public or private, in an affront to a holy God.

6.  By faith in Jesus Christ, and thereby drawing virtue from him for the purifying of the heart and the crucifying of the fleshly lusts.

In Galatians 5:24 Paul writes that those who belong to Christ “have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts.”

7.  By the applications of the promises of cleansing the heart, and subduing iniquity.

Micah 7:19 promises:  “He will subdue our iniquities.”  And Paul urges:

2 Corinthians 7:1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

8.  By the help of the Spirit:

Vincent cites Paul:

Romans 8:13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

John Owen had a famous exposition of this verse called The Mortification of Sin in which he warned that we will either kill sin or sin will kill us.

9.  By frequent and fervent prayer:

Think of David’s prayer to God in Psalm 51 in which he pleads for God to create a clean heart within him.

Jesus himself taught us to pray:  “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:13).

10.  When no other means will avail to quench burning desires, marriage is to be made use of; and that must be in the Lord.

Paul said it is better to marry than to burn (1 Cor 7:9).  His point is that God has given a lawful arena for the expression of sexual desire and it is within marriage.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The Vision (11.7.13): Christ Above All

“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

In last Sundays’ sermon I offered three observations on Jesus’ words in Luke 15:26:

Notice first the stress upon one who comes but who does not give full allegiance to Jesus.  Already Jesus is anticipating here a warning against false starters or false professors.

Notice second the strong and even harsh language.  Jesus says his follower must “hate [miseo: to despise, to disregard, to be indifferent towards]” the members of his own family.  Notice the order:  father and mother (one’s first family), wife (the one a man leaves his family of origin to cleave unto), children (the precious fruit of the marriage union), brethren and sisters (one’s own flesh and blood siblings), and, finally, he adds:  “yea, and his own life also.”  If one does not do this he cannot be Christ’s disciple.

Now, what exactly is Jesus saying here?  Is he teaching that one must be estranged from his family to be a true Christian?  Some cults have taught such things and even twisted passages like this to justify their behavior.  That cannot be what Jesus is teaching, because other passages of Scripture teach exactly the opposite and Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35):

The fifth commandment teaches us to honor our father and mother (Exod 20:12).

Paul told Christian husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25).  In Titus 2:4 Paul told Titus to teach the older women in his congregation at Crete to teach the younger women to love their husbands and their children.

Paul told fathers not to exasperate their children (Eph 6:4) and Psalm 127 calls children “a heritage from the LORD,” so they are not to be despised.

As for brothers and sisters, Paul taught in 1 Timothy 5:8:  “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”

Finally, the Great Commandment teaches that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Implied in this is the fact that we ought to love ourselves (cf. the sixth commandment on the preservation of our own lives).

So, what does this teaching mean?  How do we reconcile these two streams (Jesus’ command to hate family; Jesus’ command to love family)?  The teaching in Luke 14:26 must be taken as hyperbolic to prove a point.  The point is that even the very relationships that are most precious to us, even the dearest bonds within a family, are not to be placed above the bond to Christ.  We must not make an idol even of family.  If we ever have to choose between family and Christ, we are to choose Christ.

Jesus himself provided the example in his relationship to his human family (cf. Luke 18:19-21).

Notice third, what this teaching implies about Jesus’ self-understanding.  Who could possibly demand such allegiance?  For any mere man to do so would be the height of arrogance and blasphemy. Jesus takes upon himself the prerogatives of a jealous God who will have no gods before him.  As the first commandment teaches that there must be no gods before God, Jesus teaches that he must be above all.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

New Word Magazine (11.6.13): Reaction: Doug Phillip's Resignation

I posted a new episode of Word Magazine this morning (11.6.13).  This episode offers a reaction to Doug Phillip's resignation from Vision Forum Ministries.  Among links of interest mentioned in the episode:
David Murray's blog post on Phillip's resignation;
Reactions on blogs from folk critical of conservative Christians and/or homeschooling:  wartburgwatch; Libby Anne on patheos (here and here); homeschoolers anonymous;
My sermon Sunday morning on Counting the Cost from Luke 14:25-35.

My recent sermons on the seventh commandment (part 1 and part 2).

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

A Response to Richard Lucas' comments on my Reformed vs. Calvinist "Vision" article

Note:  A reader named Richard Lucas took exception to my brief assessment of the book Kingdom through Covenant in last week's Vision article.  I tried to add the following response to the comments, but it exceeded the allotted word count, so I am posting it as an article instead.  To read the original article and the Lucas' comments, go here.
Thanks for your comment and sorry to be so long in responding to it.  This article was the pastoral column that I wrote for last week's edition of my church's e-newsletter, The Vision.  I typically post my pastoral article to my blog each Thursday.  It so happened that one of my friends at the  Confessing Baptist website then posted a link to the article on their site and the views went up into the hundreds.
From your comments it seems I hit a nerve with my brief and less than enthusiastic assessment of Kingdom through Covenant (Crossway, 2012), especially my description of it as an attempt "to meld dispensationalism with Calvinism [let me clarify that by Calvinism I meant a full blown Calvinistic and, thereby, convenantal theology]."
Let me assure you that I do, in fact, own a copy of Kingdom through Covenant (and the picture above proves it [!]; believe it or not, I found it among the used books at the local Salvation Army--so I bought it for about a dollar, great deal!).
Let me also add that I have published over 25 book reviews in peer-reviewed academic journals (like Interpretation, Perspectives in Religious StudiesPuritan Reformed Journal, Faith & Mission, and American Theological Inquiry), not to mention at least as many reviews in Reformed Baptist Trumpet, the e-journal of the RBF-VA, which I edit.  In formal published reviews I have closely read each book, often more than once.  I have not (as yet) written a thorough review of Kingdom Through Covenant and may or may not ever get around to it, particularly since several folk have already ably done so, and I do not see the need for another.
I don't know if you're familiar with Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren's classic work How to Read a Book (Touchstone, 1940), but I would commend it.  Within that book, the authors describe three levels of reading:  (1) elementary; (2) inspectional; and (3) analytical.  All the books for which I have published a review have been read at the third and deepest level.  I admit that my reading of KTC was more on the second level, but then again my purpose was not to offer an in-depth review.  Adler & Van Doren describe inspectional reading as "the art of getting the most out of a book in a limited time" (p. 38).  When it comes to reading speed, they add:  "One point is really very simple.  Many books are hardly worth even skimming; some should be read quickly; and few should be read at a rate, usually quite slow, that allows for complete comprehension" (p. 39).
My brief reference to KTC in the article was not, of course, meant to serve as an exhaustive review.  I do not believe, however, that my brief assessment of the book was inaccurate and find it curious that this brief reference hit such a nerve with you.  As Max pointed out in the comments, my assessment was essentially the same as that of Thomas Schreiner's (i.e., "Gentry and Wellum offer a third way, a via media, between covenant theology and dispensationalism...") which the publishers chose to print on the introductory page of the book.
Beyond this, I do not understand how one might have read the book's concluding chapter 17 "Some Theological Implications" (pp. 653-716) and not conclude that the authors hoped to bridge dispensational and covenant theology by making use of aspects of each.  Let me offer just one brief excerpt from the discussion of the KTC view of ecclesiology:
"Given that we are presenting our view of the covenants as a via media, it is not surprising that we agree and disagree with both views [dispensationalism and covenant theology] at various points.  For example, in agreement with progressive dispensationalism and covenant theology we believe there is only one people of God (the elect) through the ages and one plan of redemption centred (sic) in Christ.  However, in contrast to covenant theology, we believe that the church is different from Israel in at least two ways...." (p. 684). 
You state that you don't like my use of the verb "meld" to describe this, but when I consulted an online dictionary it gave the following definition of "meld":  blend, merge, combine, fuse, mesh, alloy.  Isn't "meld" an appropriate description of the KTC method?
Let me also offer a little more background.  I have been following the "New Covenant theology" movement over the last few years including closely reading Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel's New Covenant Theology and Richard Barcellos' response In Defense of the Decalogue.  Even an inspectional reading of KTC convinced me that it was related to New Covenant Theology, as did endorsements by other NCT theologians and past Bunyan Conference speakers like T. Schreiner and M. Haykin.
So, all that said, thanks again for your comments and suggestions to improve my article in reference to KTC, but I stand by it and do not feel any need to alter it.
Respectfully, JTR

Friday, November 01, 2013

Text Criticism: Questions and Responses

I got an email this week from a friend who has been reading and listening to some of my material on text criticism.  He wrote with several questions.  I have reproduced his note and questions below (in bold and italics) along with my responses.

Hi Jeff,

I've been continuing to listen to the Word Magazine series on Wallace & Text Criticism, and I was wondering if you could clarify your own position for me a bit.

1. How exactly do you define "traditional text" or even the TR?

Response:  First, as I have stated before, I am very much still a student on this subject.  I am still learning, reading, and studying.  Many of the questions you raise, particularly related to a philosophy of textual study, are still ones I am thinking through.  Nevertheless, I’ll try to offer some preliminary responses.

What do I mean by the “traditional text”?  By this I mean the preserved copies (apographa) of Scripture in the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek) that have proven over time to be the text most clearly recognized and acknowledged by the faithful church to be the preserved word of God.  In the pre-reformation era this text is best represented in the vast majority of manuscripts, but it is not always identical with the Byzantine tradition.  In the Reformation era, according to the providence of God, this text was committed for the first time into a fixed and standard format by means of the various printed texts of the Bible, largely by the labors of Reformed pastors and scholars who then made this text the basis for the various vernacular translations.

The Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible was first printed by Daniel Blomberg in 1524-25.  David Ginsburg made this the basis of his printed text of the Hebrew Bible in 1894, and this edition has been kept in print by the Trinitarian Bible Society.  The Greek NT was first printed by Erasmus in 1516.  Various printed editions of the Greek New Testament came soon after from Reformed scholars, like Theodore Beza.  The Elzevir edition of 1633 bore the famous words in the introduction “Textum ergo habes, nunc ab omnibus receptum [The text, therefore, you have, now received by all…]” which gave rise to the designation Textus Receptus (TR) or the “received text” of the NT.  According to the preface to the Scrivener edition of the TR (1894, 1902) reprinted by the Trinitarian Bible Society, “The editions of Stephens, Beza, and the Elzevirs all present substantially the same text, and the variations are not of great significance and rarely affect the sense.”

I do not equate the traditional text with any single printed edition of the TR, nor do I believe that they or the scholars who produced them were specifically “inspired.”  The key issue with the traditional text is not inspiration but the related doctrine of preservation.

Though there are some variations in the various hand-written copies and printed editions of the traditional text, we should not blow this out of proportion.  The traditional text affirms important passages as part of the inspired and preserved word of God, which the modern-critical text questions or rejects altogether (the two biggest examples being the traditional ending of Mark [16:9-20] and the pericope adulterae of John 7:53—8:11).

2. Would there ever be a situation in which you would reject the reading of the TR in favor of a MT (or CT) reading?

Response:  I believe there is a place for textual criticism and study.  I am interested in comparing, for example, the various printed editions of the Masoretic Text and the Textus Receptus to see where they agree and where they differ, as well as comparing these readings with the various underlying hand written manuscripts, including both those favored by the modern text (like Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) and the Byzantine or Majority Text.

 I am skeptical of the modern critical text because of its roots in the Enlightenment, rationalism, and skepticism toward Biblical authority and the doctrines of both inspiration and preservation.  I am likewise skeptical of the canons of modern text criticism (such as the superiority of the lectio brevior) and modern confidence in the ability of text critics supposedly to reconstruct the original text.

 I believe we can use all available resources better to understand the traditional text and its transmission/preservation.  Thus far, I have not yet discovered a traditional text reading that I believe is inferior to alternative readings suggested in the Majority Text or Critical Text.  

 If so,
2.a. What are the criteria for making such a judgment?

Response:  We must evaluate the external evidence:  Which manuscripts support the reading?  Which contradict it?  Is the supporting evidence ancient and widespread?

We must also evaluate the internal evidence:  How does this reading fit with the context, theology, and style of the larger work?  Are there reasonable explanations for why the traditional reading might have been altered or changed? Is it reasonable to affirm the traditional text?

To this we might add the following:

1.  The shorter reading is not necessarily to be considered the best reading.

2.  The reading that harmonizes is not necessarily to be considered secondary, spurious, or late.

3.  The reading that reflects orthodox theology is not to be considered  secondary, spurious, or late.

For some interesting arguments on method which offer a critique of modern critical canons while advocating for Byzantine Priority, see Maurice Robinson’s article The Case for Byzantine Priority (also reprinted in his 2005 edition of the Byzantine Text of the NT).

2.b. How is that textual philosophically consistent?

Response:  I do not believe that it is philosophically inconsistent to suggest that the traditional text is that which has been divinely preserved and, thus, to be preferred.  I do not embrace modern reasoned eclecticism.  This does not mean that I oppose rational and critical study of the text of Scripture.

The modern critical approach begins with the presupposition that the traditional text is late and inferior and that a small group of manuscripts (led by Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) are ancient and superior.  They then consistently apply this presupposition.

The traditional critical approach begins with the presupposition that the traditional text is ancient and superior and that a small group of manuscripts (led by Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) though ancient are inferior. They then consistently apply their presuppositions.

How is one of these approaches more or less consistent than the other?