Tuesday, July 30, 2013

New Word Magazine (7.30.13): Continued Response to Reza Aslan: Defending the Crucifixion

This week's Word Magazine continues my review of the 7.15.13 NPR interview with Reza Aslan on his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, this time focusing on Aslan's comments on the crucifixion of Jesus.

I also made mention of this article challenging Aslan's scholarly credentials as a historian of early  Christianity and the video below of Aslan's uncomfortable interview with Lauren Given in which she challenged his bias in his biography of Jesus:

Monday, July 29, 2013

Thomas Vincent on the duties of churches and ministers (flowing from the Fifth Commandment)

Note:  Sunday afternoon I continued our “series (on the fifth commandment) within a series (the ten commandments) within a series (on the Baptist Catechism)” with a sermon titled The Fifth Commandment:  Part 4.  I was once again flowing the wider implications of the fifth commandment, this time addressing its implications for how ministers and churches are to relate to one another.  And, again, I was using Thomas Vincent’s Puritan exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism as a guide.  Here are my notes riffing off Vincent’s listing of mutual duties between ministers and churches:
Six duties of the people to their ministers:

First:  High estimation of them, and endeared love to them for their work’s sake.


1 Thessalonians 5:12 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13 And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.

Paul could write to the Galatians (Gal 4:14-15) and remind them of how they had received him as “an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus” and would have plucked out their own eyes for him.

Second:  Diligent attendance upon the word of God preached, and other ordinances administered by them.

Luke 10:16:  “He that heareth you, heareth me.”

Well has it been said that full pews and attentive listeners lift the preacher as if on wings, while empty pews and disinterested listeners take the wind from his sails.

Third:  Meek and patient suffering the word of reproof, and ready obedience unto the word of command, which ministers shall, from the Scriptures, make known unto them, together with submission unto the discipline intrusted with them by the Lord.

In James 1:21 we read of the necessity of receiving with meekness “the ingrafted word.”

Consider also:

Hebrews 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

Fourth:   Communicating to them of their temporals.

That is, the church should, as it is able, give to provide for the material needs of the pastor and his family so that he might pursue with full devotion of his time the ministry of the word and sacrament. 


1 Corinthians 9:14 Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.

Galatians 6:6 Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.

Fifth:  Prayer for them.

Paul in his letters often asked the churches to pray for him.  Consider:  “Brethren, pray for us” (1 Thess 5:25).

Sixth:  Shutting their ear against reproaches and slanders, believing nothing without proof; and standing up in their defense against an ungodly world, and many false brethren, and rotten hearted hypocrites, who are made of the devil to cast dirt upon them, and thereby people receiving prejudices against them, might be kept either from hearing them, or receiving benefit from their doctrine, and so be either drawn to ways of error, or hardened in ways of profaneness.

He cites:

1 Timothy 5:19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.

Correspondingly, five duties of the minister to their people in the church:

First:  Dear and tender love of their souls.

Consider the example of the apostle Paul:

1 Thessalonians 2:7 But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: 8 So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.

Second:  Diligent, sincere, and frequent preaching of the word unto them, with administration of all ordinances.

Consider Paul’s charge to Timothy:

2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

The minister’s primary calling and duty is to preach.

Third:  Watchfulness over them, with willingness and cheerfulness.


 1 Peter 5:2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

Well has it been said that the minister is to feed the sheep and not to fleece or beat the sheep.

Fourth:  Prayer for them, and praise for the grace of God which is in them.

In Paul’s letters he very often thanks and blesses God for the churches and their dear members to whom he writes. For example:

Ephesians 1:15 Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, 16 Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;

So ministers are to be addicted to prayer for their people.

Fifth:  Showing themselves an example of holiness and good works unto them.

Consider again Paul’s word to Timothy:

1 Timothy 4:12 Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

Critique of Passion 2013

 This article (from E. S. William's "The New Calvinists" website) includes the video below critiquing the popular "Passion Conference" from a conservative (fundamentalist) Christian perspective:


Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Vision (7/25/13): The Craving for Extraordinary Experience

Note:  I preached last Sunday at CRBC from Luke11:14-22 about Jesus healing a mute man and the unusual criticism this drew to him.  Here are some of my notes from the exposition of v. 16 in the passage.

The criticism of Jesus in v. 16 is of a different sort.  It comes as a temptation:  “And others, tempting [peirazo] him, sought of him a sign from heaven” (v. 16).  Now, this one is really hard to understand.  They are saying to Jesus, “Do a miracle to prove to us that you are really a miracle worker.”  And they ask this just after he has performed a miracle!  They remind me of a man who went searching his house for his eyeglasses and all the while he was wearing them.

This shows the fickleness of the people (recall Jesus’ parable of the children in the marketplace in 7:31-35).  It also shows how insatiable the craving is in spiritually fallen men for extra-ordinary experiences.  This is true whether the charismatic who goes seeking for higher and deeper experiences or the Roman Catholic who goes from shrine to shrine to venerate weeping statues or the presumed “image” of Jesus in a piece of toast.  Those who base their faith on such experience are like drug users; they need more and stronger doses to achieve a high.

I heard a report on a podcast the other day of a young woman, the child of a Christian apologist, who announced that she is now an atheist.  In a statement she apparently said that part of the reason she did this is that she didn’t feel anything when she prayed.  This is the problem when you base your Christian life on feelings and experiences and miracles.  Authentic faith is not about how you feel or what you experience.  It is about believing what is true.  The greatest miracle has already been performed.  Christ has died on the cross for sinners and been gloriously raised.  And still men crave “proof” that Jesus is the Christ.  When the Rich Man in Hades pleaded with Father Abraham to send someone back from the dead to warn his brothers, Abraham answered, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

May we find satisfaction in Word of God and in the finished work of Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New Word Magazine (7.23.13): Review of Reza Aslan's "Zealot" Interview and Attacks on the Historicity of the Gospel Birth Narratives

Image:  Reza Aslan, author of "Zealot:  The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth"

As I note in the program, I hope no one falls over when they hear I have recorded and posted a Word Magazine two weeks in a row.  This edition is a review of another Reza Aslan NPR interview (this one on the "Fresh Air" program from 7/15/13).  Last week's episode has nearly a hundred downloads (as of this afternoon), so there must be some interest in the topic.  In this episode I focus on Aslan's challenges to the historicity of the Gospel birth narratives, including his charge that the historical Jesus was born in Nazareth rather than Bethlehem and that the Gospel birth narratives are "ridiculous" and "unhistorical to the extreme."  Along the way I point out a few of Aslan's factual (like the obvious misstatement that "Bethlehem" is only mentioned in three verses in the NT) and philosophical/theological errors (e.g., false dichotomies between the "Jesus of history" and the "Christ of faith").


Monday, July 22, 2013

The hermeneutical justification for the wider implications of the fifth commandment

Note:  In our Sunday afternoon services at CRBC we are continuing to work our way through Spurgeon's revised version of the Baptist Catechism.  I have devoted the last three messages in the series to the catechism's instruction on the wider implications of the fifth commandment (first in the so-called "second table" of the law and, therefore, first in treating man's relation to his fellow man) and have at least one (and possibly two) more messages to go before moving on to the sixth commandment.  The Fathers who prepared the catechism note that the applications flowing from the underlying principles of the fifth commandment go beyond merely the duty of children to honor parents but requires, "the preserving the honour, and performing the duties belonging to every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals." As Thomas Vincent points out in his study of the Shorter Catechism, this commandment addresses proper relations between children and parents, wives and husbands, servants and masters, citizens and magistrates, churches and ministers, etc.  Here are some notes I shared in the second message in the series offering a brief hermeneutical justification for these wider applications. 

Before going forward I want first to address a question of hermeneutics or the proper interpretation and application of Scripture.  Some of us were discussing the approach of our Puritan and Particular Baptist fathers reflected in this catechism in their interpretation and expansion of this commandment in particular.  Did they go beyond what is written to say that the fifth commandment addresses not only children honoring parents but also other human relationships?

I want to argue that this approach is appropriate for the following two Biblical reasons:

First:  It follows the example of how Jesus interpreted the Ten Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount (see the so-called antitheses of Matthew 5:21, 28 where Jesus says that the prohibition against murder also includes in principle a prohibition against unjust anger and the prohibition against adultery also includes a prohibition against lust).

Second:  It follows the example of how Paul applied the fifth commandment in the household code of Ephesians 6:1-4 [cf. Colossians 3:20-21].  Note especially how Paul's citation of the fifth commandment in Ephesians 6:2-3 appears literally at the very conceptual center of the Ephesian household code:

A.  Wives and husbands (Eph 5:22-33)

B.  Children (6:1)

C.  Citation of the fifth commandment (6:2-3)

B'  Fathers (6:4)

A' Servants and masters (6:5-9)

And for the following logical reason:

If the Ten Commandments are the summation of the moral law of God, then we should be able to trace the root of any moral law to at least one of the Ten Commandments.  One cannot say, for example, the Bible does not forbid bank robbery explicitly, so bank robbery must be OK.  No, the prohibition against bank robbery is included in the eighth commandment, Thou shalt not steal.

There is, of course, a caution here.  The applications we draw from the principles underlying the Ten Commandments must be logically and Biblically consistent.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Vision (7.18.13): Prayer without ceasing

We had a good discussion after lunch at CRBC last Sunday on the Lord’s Prayer.  To sum up we determined that, following Jesus’ model, our prayer should be directed to God the Father.  We also determined that it could be appropriate to recite the Lord’s Prayer (from Matthew 6:9-13 or Luke 11:2-4) either personally or corporately, given that is always good to recite Scripture, while also acknowledging that any prayer practice should not become mere formalism or “vain repetition.”

In addition to set apart times of private and public prayer, the Bible also teaches that prayer should be a constant activity of the believer. As Paul exhorted, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Here is an excerpt from Joel Beeke’s book Striving Against Satan on the discipline of always praying:

Some generations ago, several ministers gathered in the Scottish highlands to discuss what it meant to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).  After considerable discussion, one minister asked a little maid girl if she knew what it meant.

“Yes sir,” she said, “As I rose this morning from bed, I prayed that the Sun of righteousness would arise with healing in his wings over me today.  When I got dressed, I prayed that I might be clothed with Christ’s righteousness.  As I dusted the furniture in this room before you arrived, I prayed that the Lord would wipe my heart clean through the blood of Jesus.  When I made refreshments ready, I prayed that Jesus Christ might be my food and drink.  Sir, I pray my way through each day, for prayer is my breath, my life.”

Praying without ceasing means praying at set times and seasons as well as sending up short petitions to God throughout the day. It means praying at stated times of prayer and praying whenever you feel the impulse to do so.  Praying is more important than whatever else you are doing.  Spurgeon said, “We must addict ourselves to prayer.” (pp. 56-57).

May the Lord make us praying Christians and make our church a praying church.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Postscript to the Reza Aslan Interview

Here's an interesting postscript to the July 14, 2013 NPR Weekend Edition interview with Reza Aslan, which I reviewed in the last Word Magazine (7.16.13).  NPR has now put up a "correction" note which reads:
Correction July 15, 2013

In the audio of this story, as in a previous Web version, our guest incorrectly says the first Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, contains no statement of messianic identity from Jesus. In fact, in Mark 14:62, Jesus responds affirmatively when asked if he is the son of God.

The note comes in response to Aslan's statement that Jesus in Mark nowhere claims to be the Christ.  In my response I noted that Aslan completely misses the point of the Gospel which opens, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (1:1), reaches a high point when Peter affirms, "Thou art the Christ" (8:29), and closes with a Roman Centurion affirming, "Truly this man was the Son of God" (15:39).  As I overlooked but apparently other listeners pointed out, Aslan's point is completely refuted by Mark 14:61-62 when Jesus is asked, "Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" and he replied, "I am."

BTW, the NPR correction also erroneously calls Mark "the first Gospel."  Not only is this incorrect in that no one knows with certainty which Gospel was written first but also because scholars (whatever their view on Gospel origins) typically refer to Matthew as "the first Gospel" due to its first place in the canonical order.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Thoughts on the text of the Lukan Lord's Prayer: Luke 11:2-4

I preached last Sunday on Luke 11:1-13, including Luke’s account of Jesus’ teaching on the Lord’s Prayer (vv. 2-4).  The text of the prayer is abbreviated in the modern critical text in comparison to the traditional text.  The typical modern text critical assessment is that the traditional text has accommodated Luke 11:2-4 to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13.

The issue:

A comparison of the NKJV (based on the traditional text) and the NIV (based on the modern critical text) illustrates the differences (disputed inclusions in bold and underlined):


Luke 11:2 So He said to them, "When you pray, say:

Our Father in heaven,

Hallowed be Your name.

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.

3 Give us day by day our daily bread.

4 And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one."


Luke 11:2 He said to them, "When you pray, say:

"'Father, hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come.

3 Give us each day our daily bread.

4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

And lead us not into temptation.'"

External evidence:

When I examined the external evidence in the critical apparatus, I was surprised to see the strength of the manuscript support for the traditional reading. Take the opening phrase in v. 2:  hemon pater ho en tois ouranois [“Our father which art in heaven” KJV]. This traditional reading is supported by codices A, C, D, W, Theta, family 13, and the vast majority of Greek manuscripts.  The truncated reading pater of the modern critical text is supported by only five early Greek manuscripts (though they include the “big two” Sinaiticus and Vaticanus):  p75, Aleph, B, 1, 700.  Similar results (with some variety) are found when the other contested passages are examined.

Internal evidence:

Metzger’s Commentary has a brief note on the pater reading in v. 2 in which he states:

In view of the liturgical usage of the Matthean form of the Lord’s Prayer, it is remarkable that such a variety of early witnesses managed to resist what must have been an exceedingly strong temptation to assimilate the Lukan text to the much more familiar Matthean form.  It is not surprising, therefore, that the great majority of witnesses read [“Our Father which art in heaven”], as in Mt 6.9 (p. 154).

He does not give detailed attention to the other variations.  Instead he devotes more than two pages (pp. 154-156) to what he calls “the most interesting variant reading,” a petition inserted into v. 2 that reads “Your Holy Spirit be upon us and purify us” found only  in two late manuscripts (700, from the 11th century, and 162, dated 1153 A. D.).


The external evidence in support of the traditional reading is surprisingly early (A, for example, is typically dated c. 5th century, putting it on par with the “big two”) and widespread, while the evidence supporting the modern critical reading is, correspondingly, surprisingly weak.

What are we to make, however, of Metzger’s confident assertion that the traditional reading is simply the result of accommodation or harmonization to the Matthean Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13) based on the extensive liturgical use of the latter?  There seems to be an obvious logical problem with this assumption.  If the scribes wanted to accommodate Luke’s text to Matthew’s the effort was not entirely successful. While the traditional text of the Lukan Lord’s Prayer is substantially like the traditional text of the Matthean Lord’s Prayer, the two are not exactly the same.  For example, in Matthew 6:12 it reads, “Forgive us our debts [ta opheilemata hemon] as we forgive our debtors,” but the parallel passage in Luke 11:4 reads, “And forgive us our sins [tas hamartias hemon], as we also forgive everyone that is indebted to us.”  If the scribes were driven to assimilation, why did they not harmonize this part of Luke’s prayer with Matthew’s?  Most striking is the fact that there does not appear to have been an effort to insert the Matthean doxology (Matt 6:13) into the text of the Lukan Lord’s prayer at v. 4.  At least the 27th ed. of the N-A apparatus does not cite any evidence of this.

The conclusion we must reach is that the scribes did not see the need to make Luke’s Lord’s Prayer conform exactly to Matthew’s, though it is very similar.  How do we explain the fact that a handful of texts offer a shorter version (which has now been accepted as the authentic reading in the modern-critical text)?  This could be the result of early scribal error in an exemplar repeated by the few manuscripts that contain the shorter reading.  We might also ask if there was some effort to abbreviate the text.  There might also have been some theological reasons for altering the fuller text of the prayer, which we can no longer clearly ascertain. Obviously, the shorter reading of the Lukan Lord’s Prayer was rejected as inauthentic in the common use of the churches in favor of the traditional reading, which is very much like Matthew’s but also clearly not exactly like it.  There is, therefore, ample reason to contend for the retention of the traditional text of Luke’s Lord’s Prayer as adopted in the vast majority of Greek manuscripts.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

New Word Magazine: Response to Reza Aslan's "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth"

I finally got around to doing another edition of "Word Magazine" this afternoon.  The topic is a review of an NPR interview with Reza Aslan discussing his book Zealot:  The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.


Friday, July 12, 2013

New Tract Available: "A Brief Guide to English Bible Translations"

Bonnie Beach has taken a modified version of a Vision article (and blog post) I wrote titled "A Brief Guide to English Bible Translations" and attractively formatted it into a hard copy tri-fold tract.  Copies are now available at CRBC literature table during our Sunday gatherings.  If anyone out of town would like some of the tracts we can send them at cost, if you send a request to info.crbc@gmail.com.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Vision (7/11/13): God is Love

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16).

“We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Here is one more gleaning from Rodney Stark’s book The Rise of Early Christianity, subtitled “How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries.”  Stark notes that the Christian teaching that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that love is the proper response to God and also to one’s neighbor would have puzzled pagans who only knew gods that were impersonal, capricious, or cruel:

The simple phrase “For God so loved the world…” would have puzzled an educated pagan.  And the notion that the gods care how we treat one another would have been dismissed as patently absurd.

From the pagan viewpoint, there was nothing new in the Jewish or Christian teachings that God makes behavioral demands upon humans—the gods have always demanded sacrifice and worship.  Nor was there anything new in the idea that God will respond to human desires—that the gods can be induced to exchange services for sacrifices.  But … the idea that God loves those who love him was entirely new (p. 211).

In the new paganism of our own times, perhaps this proclamation will be just as novel. Let us be faithful in our generation to hold forth these basic truths:  God is love.  He delights in the love of his people.  He calls on us to love our brethren and to have that love spill over to our neighbor.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Note: Guy MacLean Rogers' "Alexander: The Ambiguity of Greatness"

Guy MacLean Rogers, Alexander:  The Ambiguity of Greatness (Random House, 2004):  420 pp.

In this work, Rogers, a classicist and historian, offers a popular level biography of Alexander the Great.  In the Introduction, he notes how contemporary historians have tended to present “a far less flattering portrait of Alexander” than previous generations which tended to see him as a heroic or even messianic figure (p. xv).  The “new scholarly orthodoxy” has suggested that he be “rechristened Alexander ‘the Terrible,’ or Alexander ‘the Insignificant’” (Ibid.).  Thus, “Alexander has been retroactively stripped of his reputation and epithet” (Ibid.).  Rogers adds that the “new image of Alexander has resulted (in part) from the adoption of a more critical and skeptical attitude toward the ancient Greek and Roman sources for his life” (p. xvi).

The body of the book offers a chronological sketch of Alexander’s life from his birth in 356 B. C. and rise to power in Macedonia in 336 B. C. at the assassination of his father, Philip, to his untimely death in Babylon in 323 B.C. after a series of unprecedented military victories that extended his Greek kingdom throughout Egypt, Persia, Afghanistan, and even to India.

At the book’s close, Rogers returns to the historical issues raised in the Introduction.  Chapter 30 is titled, “Alexander:  Mass Murderer or Messiah?” (pp. 280-288).  He concludes, contra the aforementioned tendencies of modern historians, that Alexander “was not a genocidal thug like Stalin or Hitler” nor was he “a kind of ancient conquistador” (p. 283).  On the other hand, Alexander was not a “messianic figure” nor an idealized “philosopher-king” (p. 286).  He was rather “a prodigy or warfare” and a man of his times (p. 283).

In the final chapter (chapter 31:  “Alexander and the Ambiguity of Greatness” pp. 289-294) the author evaluates the “historical legacies” of Alexander (p. 289).  Again, Rogers challenges the conclusions of  some contemporary historians who, he claims, have tended to downplay Alexander’s influence, seeing him as merely a “fiery comet” who flashed across the sky, exploded, and then disappeared in “a cloud of mythic vapor” (p. 289).  On the contrary, Rogers argues that Alexander’s historical influence was profound.  He was “the original architect of an amalgam Greco-Roman civilization in the Near East, which endured politically for more than 1,700 years.  For a mere comet, he had a long historical trail” (p. 292).  He observes that historical “greatness” is “a far more ambiguous and subjective concept than is usually appreciated” adding that those with great abilities often have correspondingly “great flaws” (p. 294).  He concludes:  “We must learn to live with the ambiguity of the great.  If we are able to live with the ambiguity of the great, perhaps we may live better with our own” (Ibid.).


It is typical for Introduction to the New Testament textbooks to begin with some discussion of the so-called Greco-Roman backgrounds to the New Testament and Early Christianity.  Inevitably, this includes some mention and discussion of Alexander and the “hellenization” of the ancient world.  I read this book to better understand Alexander and his legacy.  Having taught a “Life of Jesus” class I was also interested in the historical question of how to reconstruct a biography of a figure from antiquity.

Rogers addresses both these topics.  First, regarding Alexander and hellenization, Rogers observes that Alexander profoundly influenced the origins and evolution of “the three great religions of the book, Rabbinic Judaism, early Christianity, and early Islam” (p. 292).  According to Rogers, “few people seem to have reflected upon the question of how and why all the central texts of early Christianity came to be written in Greek” (p. 292).  He ponders what the consequences might have been had the foundational texts of Christianity been written “in Hebrew or Aramaic, the everyday language of Jesus and his closest disciples” (Ibid.).  He adds:  “It was largely as a long term result of Alexander’s conquests that Greek became the primary language through which Christianity was spread throughout the Mediterranean world” (Ibid.).  Rogers finds it ironic that the polytheistic Alexander’s efforts to establish “a world empire of the best” had the unintended consequence of “building the civic substructure for a world empire of a god [sic] who made redemption possible for all” (p. 293).  Of course, what Rogers sees as an irony of history, the believer sees as the providential hand of the God of the Bible.

Second, regarding the historical effort to reconstruct the life of a figure from antiquity, Rogers offers an interesting appendix titled “Sources:  Flacks, Hacks, and Historians” (pp. 299-307).  He begins by reflecting on the fact that many of the most ancient sources on the life of Alexander, written by his contemporaries, have been completely lost or must be reconstructed from selective quotations in later authors.  This calls to mind similar challenges in New Testament studies (e.g., scrutiny of quotations from Papias in Eusebius).  Rogers observes:  “Only when we have understood the viewpoint of our sources can we access the value of the information they have provided” (p. 299).
Rogers adds that it is only from our existing sources, whether literary or material (e.g., inscription, coins, artifacts, etc.) that one can draw historical conclusions.  One can know “the real Alexander the Great” from what the sources “have chosen to record about him and his deeds.  Without our sources, there simply is no Alexander, real or otherwise” (p. 300).  He concludes:

The art of creating an objective and persuasive representation of Alexander out of such a jumble of sources is not a task for the faint of heart.  Indeed, reconstructing what Alexander did (or did not do) can be done plausibly only after a careful sifting and weighing of the value of all the pieces of evidence provided by the sources for any given action of Alexander’s (p. 307).

This is striking in comparison and application to the task of reconstructing the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  If the historian can refer to material on someone as influential and well known in his times as Alexander as “a jumble of sources” what might he say of Jesus who left such a light footprint in the historical record of his contemporaries?  In fact, outside brief, scant references to him in extra-biblical literature (by Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny) we are left in complete dependence upon the canonical Gospels for our knowledge of Jesus.  When the historical reliability of the Gospels is challenged or disregarded it is no surprise that modern historians have either concluded they can know nothing about Jesus except the fact that he did exist historically (so Rudolph Bultmann) or they deny his existence and hypothesize instead that he was a mere mythic fabrication (so Robert M. Price).  This makes all the more important the defense of the historical reliability of the canonical Gospels as our foundational sources for understanding the life and teachings of Jesus.

Jeffrey T. Riddle, Pastor, Christ Reformed Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Virginia

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

On Finding a Copy of "The Majority Text"

Image:  My copies of The Majority Text and The Ecclesiastical Text

Image:  The front inside cover of The Majority Text signed by the editor. Note that the "t" is missing in the "Sola Scriptura" inscription.  Errare est humanum.

I much prefer getting a good used book to buying a new one.  A few years ago my friend Sherman Isbell pointed me in the direction of Abebooks.com, and I’ve been a faithful patron ever since.  Every once in a while I’ll do some searching for an out of print book there that I’d like to have.  One I’ve kept an eye out for to acquire for my personal library ever since I read a copy I got from the Union Seminary Library in Richmond is The Majority Text:  Essays and Reviews in the Continuing Debate (Institute for Biblical and Textual Studies, 1987), edited by Theodore P. Letis.  Since the book is out of print, copies are scarce and the prices usually run pretty high (e.g., a new copy is listed now on Abebooks for over $300). This work, along with Letis’ The Ecclesiastical Text:  Text Criticism, Biblical Authority, and the Popular Mind (1997), had a huge impact on my thinking regarding text and translation issues.

Anyhow, last week I found someone vending a copy of The Majority Text on Abebooks for a very reasonable price (my guess is the seller did not realize its value), ordered it, and got it on Monday.  The copy is in good shape, clean, and unmarked.  To my satisfaction, I found that it is also signed in the inside cover by the editor.  In the providence of God, Letis died suddenly in 2005 at age 53 (here’s his obituary which appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).  To hear a recording of him, check out his insightful critique of the ESV translation hosted by Still Waters Revival on sermonaudio.com.  I am glad to add this book to my shelf dedicated to text and translation study.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Godet on the "diseased imagination" of the Tübingen School

In preparing for yesterday’s sermon on Jesus’ visit with Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42, I continued my concurrent reading of Frederick Godet’s Luke commentary (English ed. 1881).  In his summation on the pericope, Godet offers the following negative assessment of the interpretation given the passage by the so-called “Tübingen School” of interpretation, which postulated hidden references to Jewish Christian (Petrine)/Gentile Christian (Pauline) tension, in good Hegelian fashion, lurking underneath every NT rock.  This school, with its rabid skepticism towards the historicity of the NT, would have been at the height of its popularity when the orthodox Swiss exegete wrote.  His final sentence offers an accurate prophecy of the ultimate demise of this approach, as indeed it has largely been abandoned even by the most skeptical contemporary academic scholars:

The Tübingen School has discovered depths in this narrative unknown till it appeared.  In the person of Martha, Luke seeks to stigmatize Judaizing Christianity, that of legal works; in the person of Mary he has exalted the Christianity of Paul, that of justification without works and by faith alone.  What extraordinary prejudice must prevail in a mind which can to such a degree mistake the exquisite simplicity of this story!  Supposing that it really had such an origin, would not this dogmatic importation have infallibly discolored both the matter and form of the narrative?  A time will come when those judgments of modern criticism will appear like the wanderings of a diseased imagination (p. 311).

Sermon Notes on "One thing is needful" (Luke 10:38-42)

Note:  I am typically a "manuscript preacher," that is I usually write out my sermons when preparing to preach.  Yesterday morning, I forgot my manuscript on the kitchen table at home and had to preach on Luke 10:38-42 ex tempore.  To get some gain from writing the manuscript, I thought I'd post my notes here:

  One thing is needful
Luke 10:38-42
CRBC July 7, 2013

We are continuing today our exposition of the Gospel of Luke.  We are in that part of Luke where Jesus is slowly traveling toward Jerusalem, toward the cross (9:51).

Today we come to a scene where Jesus is welcomed into the home of two sisters, receiving their hospitality.  One commentator calls this scene, “a precious jewel which only Luke has preserved for us” (Geldenhuys, p. 315).

Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has recorded this account just after Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus has illustrated the Great Commandment, love of God and love of neighbor.  It ended with Jesus commanding, “Go, and do thou likewise” (v. 37).

This is a call to a life of active service to one’s neighbor.  Indeed, the Christian life is to be one of active service to neighbor.  As believers we are not to be content with sitting on the bench, but we should desire to get in the game.

The passage that follows, however, takes things a step further and addresses the spirit and the attitude that we are to have in serving Christ and loving our neighbor.

I.                    Exposition:

We begin in v. 38:  “Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered a certain village….”  Luke writes in a Biblical style [Now it came to pass] as though he has an awareness that he is writing sacred Scripture on par with that of the OT narratives.  The “they” here refers to Jesus and his entourage of disciples [the twelve and others—including the 70 that had been sent out by him to prepare his way].

Luke does not mention the identity of the village which Jesus entered.  The best assumption is that this was the village of Bethany, which we know from John’s Gospel was the hometown of Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus.  Compare:

John 11:1 Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.

This raises a point where some modern scholars have wanted to challenge the historicity [historical reliability] of Luke.  Why?  Because Bethany was just outside Jerusalem, and, according to Luke, Jesus is meant to be traveling toward Jerusalem, and he does not arrive there until Luke 19 (in fact, in Luke 19:29 it specifically refers to Jesus coming nigh “to Bethphage and Bethany”).  At least one orthodox commentator tried to defend Luke by suggesting that Mary and Martha had first lived somewhere between Galilee and Jerusalem before moving to Bethany [Hengstenberg, as cited by Godet, p. 309].  But there is really no need for such an explanation.  More reasonable is to understand that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was a gradual, intentional, and symbolic journey.  And to say that he was making this journey, which would ultimately end with his crucifixion, does not exclude the fact that during this time he made intervening visits to Jerusalem, particularly for the three annual feasts that all Jewish males were required to attend or for other festivals (e.g., John 10:22 says that he went to Jerusalem for feast of dedication [Hannukah] in the winter”).  Again, we must remember that there is no supposed Scriptural difficulty that cannot be resolved given enough reasonable thought and information.

The second half of v. 38 continues:  “and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.”  Martha was apparently a well known early disciple of our Lord.  Luke, in particular, has described the women disciples who accompanied Jesus (cf. 8:2-3).  One commentator pointed out that the name Martha is from the feminine Aramaic noun Mar, which means “mistress” (Geldenhuys, p. 317, n. 2).  The implication here is that Martha was the elder sister and the mistress of the household.  The fact that she received Jesus “into her house” is a mark of hospitality.  The verb hupodechomai refers to the extending of hospitality.  The traditional text adds the explicit phrase “into her house [oikos]” (again, emphasizing the fact that she is the head of the household).

This is striking given the instructions Jesus gave to the 70 about hospitality (cf. 10:5, 7, 10).

Hospitality was certainly a key mark of the early Christians.  1 Peter 4:9 in the NKJV says, “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.”  Martha is a godly woman who is willing to open her door wide to receive Jesus and his disciples into her home.  She is like Lydia who at Philippi in Acts 16 would open her household to Paul and Silas.  Compare:

Acts 16:15 And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.

In v. 39 we meet Martha’s sister:  “And she had a sister called Mary which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.”

If Martha was the elder sister and mistress of the household, Mary was apparently the younger.  The name Mary is from the Hebrew Miriam, the sister of Moses in the OT.  It was a popular name for Jewish girls and there are several women named “Mary” in the NT including, of course, the mother of our Lord.

The description of Mary’s response to the arrival of Jesus into their home is striking on several levels.  Most notably, Luke says that she “also sat at Jesus’ feet.”  The cultural setting here implies a meal where Jesus would have been reclining on the low couch (Latin:  triclinium) to eat and share fellowship with his followers, and, as he does so, he continues to teach them informally through conversation.  It is striking first that a woman is present at this meal and second that she is among the learners, among the disciples.  She was, Luke says, hearing “his word.”

Christianity, from the beginning, from the earthly ministry of our Lord himself, acknowledged the appropriateness of women as disciples or students of Jesus, learning alongside the male disciples.  In this, Christianity distinguishes itself from the Greco-Roman religions which saw women as little more than half-baked men, and later religious traditions like Orthodox Judaism and Islam which segregate and separate men from women.  Consider Paul’s letters (like Ephesians and Colossians) where instructions are given for wives and husbands or (like Titus 2) where instructions are given for old and young.  The assumption is that all are together in worship hearing the same words in the same context together.

Women and girls, don’t believe the world’s lie that Biblical Christianity is against women.  It has brought more dignity and respect for women than any movement that has ever appeared on the earth.

I mentioned last week the book by sociologist Rodney Stark titled The Rise of Christianity in which he studies the growth of early Christianity from a sociological perspective.  In one chapter he describes how “Christianity was unusually appealing because within the Christian subculture women enjoyed far higher status than did women in the Greco-Roman world at large” (p. 95).

In one section he describes the status of women in ancient Athens.  He begins by noting that there were fewer women than men, because infanticide was rampant and most wanted boys rather than girls.  He continues:

“The status of Athenian women was very low.  Girls received little or no education.  Typically Athenian females were married at puberty and often before.  Under Athenian law a woman was classified as a child, regardless of age, and therefore was the legal property of some man at all stages of her life. Males could divorce simply by ordering a wife out of the household.  Moreover, if a woman was seduced or raped, her husband was legally compelled to divorce her….”  She could own property but the title was always vested in the male to whom she “belonged” (p. 102).

Can you imagine how strange it must have been for a pagan living in Athens to read Luke 10 and hear that Jesus welcomed a woman to sit at his feet and listen to his word?

The objection to Mary as a learner at the feet of Jesus is not going to come from a male chauvinist pagan but from her own sister, whom she, no doubt, looked up to and admired.

So, v. 40 begins, “But Martha was cumbered [perispaomai, to be distracted or worried] about much serving [diakonian, serving or ministering]….”  Martha’s problem is not going to be with her sister’s learning but with the fact that she is feeling slighted or neglected.  Here she is serving and her sister is given what she perceives to be the leisure of simply sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him.

She goes straight to the top and reports this to Jesus even demanding that he take action:  “and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me” (v. 40).  No doubt she was cumbered with much service.  Can you imagine how hard it was to prepare a meal and serve as hostess in the first century where water has to be carried into the home, where cooking has to be done over a fire, and where for clean-up there is no such thing as yet as soap!?

Though perhaps understandable there are several things that are deeply troubling about Martha’s spirit in this verse:

1.      She accuses our Lord of indifference to what she perceives to be her plight (“dost thou not care”).
2.     She engages in degrading self-pity.  Note the word “alone” (the Greek adjective monos).  Her attitude reminds me of the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19 when he laments to the Lord that the children of Israel have “forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life to take it away” (vv. 10, 14).  God responds by telling Elijah, “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which have not kissed him” (v. 18).  As one wag put it, the graveyards are filled with indispensible men.
3.     She has the audacity to give orders to the Lord.  The “bid her” is an imperative command.

The brief passage closes in vv. 41-42 with Jesus offering to Martha a gentle but firm rebuke.  Notice how Jesus models for us how to exhort with gentleness and kindness but firmness.  Notice in v. 41 that he calls her name twice.  When he bids her brother Lazarus rise from the dead (John 11:43), he only calls his name once!  He first diagnosis her frenzied state:  “thou art careful (Greek verb is merimnao, to be anxious or worried; not “careful” in the sense of meticulous or safe) and troubled about many things” (v. 41).

And then he offers a corrective by commending the disposition of Mary (v. 42).  He begins, “But one thing is needful.”  There is a possible play on words here as the language can be used to refer to the courses of a meal so that it might be interpreted only one course is needed for this meal. By this Jesus is not talking about a dish but a disposition of spirit, an outlook.  He then commends Mary:  “and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

II.                  Application:

There are many applications we might draw from this passage, some of which we have already touched upon.  We might address our Lord’s affirmation of the status of women as disciples.  But we need also to note that Mary is not put forward as a public teacher or minister of the word.

The “classic interpretation” of the passage is that it comes something as a corrective to a potential imbalance after the Good Samaritan teaching.

It reminds us that the Christian life is not merely a matter of doing, but it is also a matter of being.  It is not a matter of giving but of receiving.  It is not a matter of ministering but of being ministered to.  It is not a matter of action but of contemplation.

One of the repeated themes in the teaching of our Lord as recorded in Luke is that of the importance of hearing, the discipline of right hearing:

Luke 8:18:  “Take heed how ye hear.”

Luke 9:44:  “Let these sayings sink down into your ears.”

This is balanced also by our Lord’s teaching about right doing:

Luke 6:27:  “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,”

Luke 6:31:  “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”

And even in Luke 10:37 where the lawyer says the true neighbor was the Samarian who “shewed [poieo, to do] mercy on him.”

We know that even among the first believers there was tension between these twin duties or disciplines:  proper hearing and proper doing.  In the epistle of James, we see a correction against much hearing and little doing, as James taught:  “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22).  Our passage today seems to warn against the opposite imbalance, as it appears to teach, “Be ye hearers of the word and not doers only.”

Certainly, we all know the trap of thinking that a deeper or higher spiritual life is associated with ever more frenzied spiritual activity on both a personal and corporate level (e.g., I’m a good Christian if I am “busy” with Christian activities seven nights a week).

But, on further reflection, I think the “classic” application can also somewhat miss the mark.

Geldenhuys notes that Jesus did not disapprove of Martha’s service to him “for they were the outcome of love for Him and were meant to serve Him.  It is her wrong attitude as revealed in her condemnation of Mary and her dissatisfaction with himself that had to be set right and rebuked” (p. 316).  He adds:  “What we do learn here is that in our life’s active service we must not be anxious and agitated, sulky and dissatisfied with our fellow Christians or with our Master, and that we should not busy ourselves to such an extent with outward things that we neglect the quiet worship of the Lord” (p. 316).

Do you ever find yourself being anxious, agitated, sulky, and dissatisfied with your fellow Christians or with Christ himself?

If so, this is not a sign of your maturity but your immaturity.  It is sin rooted in the 10th commandment—a lack of satisfaction in Christ.

The Martha spirit is not over-activity in service, but it is having a sour disposition in service toward others and Christ.

Do a review of your heart and see if you find any of the Martha spirit:

1.      Have you accused the Lord or indifference?
2.     Have you engaged in degrading self-pity?
3.     Have you had the audacity to offer commands to our Lord?

The better part chosen by Mary is not merely the disposition of sitting at Christ’s feet and sharing in communion with him.  It is also the disposition of being satisfied in Him.

Meditate on the promise made to Mary in v. 42:  “which shall not be taken away from her.”  The vital things we learn while sitting at the feet of Christ as his disciples can never be taken away from us.  His love for his sheep, his willingness to lay down his life for them, the abundant life he brings, the peace that comes through the cross.  If you learn from Christ, these things will never be taken away from you.  They can take your family, your freedom, your possessions, but they cannot take Christ from you. They can take your health and your life, but they cannot take Christ from you.

This is why Jesus can teach that loving God and loving neighbor, knowing Christ and serving Christ, and doing that with the right spirit and attitude, as instructed by Christ, is the one thing needful in a person’s life.