Friday, July 31, 2015

The Vision (7.31.15): Take Not Away Thy Bible

Note:  In the closing application to last Sunday morning’s sermon from Nehemiah 8:1-12 on Ezra the scribe reading the law of God to the returned exiles, I shared this anecdote (taken from Joel R. Beeke, Puritan Evangelism:  A Biblical Approach, p. 1):

The Puritan minister John Rogers (c. 1570-1636) once preached to his congregation about their neglect of Scripture.  He imagined what God might say to them:  “I have trusted you so long with my Bible…it lies in [some] houses all covered with dust and cobwebs, you care not to listen to it.  Do you use my Bible so?  Well, you shall have my Bible no longer.”

With that said, Rogers picked up the Bible and began to walk away from the pulpit.

Then, he took on the role of the people and fell on his knees pleading, “Lord, whatever Thou dost to us, take not Thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us Thy Bible, take not away Thy Bible.”

Assuming again the part of God Himself, Rogers replies to the congregation, “Say you so?  Well, I will try you a little longer; and here is my Bible for you.  I will see how you use it, whether you will search it more, love it more, observe it more, and live more according to it.”

May we learn to treasure God’s Word more dearly.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, July 30, 2015

John Owen on Divine Preservation of Scripture

In his treatise “Of the Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and Greek Text of the Scripture” the Puritan John Owen affirms both the inspiration and preservation of Scripture, noting that God would not have given his Word to his people if he had not also intended to preserve it for them:

But what, I pray, will it advantage us that God did so once deliver his word, if we are not assured also that that word so delivered hath been, by his special care and providence, preserved entire and uncorrupted unto us, or that it doth not evidence and manifest itself to be his word, beings so preserved? ….

Far be it from the thoughts of any good man, that God, whose covenant with his church is that his word and Spirit shall never depart from it, Isa lix. 21, Matt. v.18, 1 Pet. i.25, 1 Cor xi.23, Matt. xxviii.20, hath left it in uncertainties about the things that are the foundation of all that faith and obedience which he requires at our hands (Works, Vol. 16, p. 350).

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Word Magazine # 40: Rejoinder to James White on Ecclesiastical Text.Part One

Last night I recorded WM # 40 which offers a rejoinder and analysis of this screen flow video from RB apologist James White:

As I note in my rejoinder, White recorded this video in response to a FaceBook dust-up with RB Pastor Robert Truelove. Truelove had, I think, charitably and perceptively raised some good questions about how and why Muslims have used James White's presentations advocating the modern critical Greek text of the NT to serve their own apologetic ends in denying the reliability and authority of the Christian Scriptures.  Here is a video that Truelove posted in response to James White:

Clearly, White is becoming more aware of a small but growing movement in some Reformed circles to rethink the adoption of the modern critical text and to take seriously the confessional articulation of the doctrine of the divine preservation of Scripture in chapter one of the WCF and the 2LBCF (1689).  This is leading to a revival of interest in the traditional or "ecclesiastical" text as represented in the Hebrew Masoretic Text of the OT and the Greek Textus Receptus of the NT.


Friday, July 24, 2015

The Vision: Psalm 12:6-7 and Preservation

Note:  Here are some notes from last Sunday’s sermon on Psalm 12:

Psalm 12:6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. 7 Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

Does Psalm 12 support the doctrine of the providential preservation of God’s Word?

I believe the answer to that is “Yes.”  The heart of that comes in v. 6.  God’s word is pure.  It has been made pure by God himself.  It is not an adulterated word.  It is like silver purified in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.  Notice:  It was not left in a state of impurity and corruption for thousands of years until the right scientific knowledge arose to purify it.  It has always been pure.

Though we might grant that the thrust of v. 7 is about the preservation of God’s people (rather than directly about the preservation of his Word) that is not a point unrelated to the doctrine of the divine preservation of Scripture.  Why can God’s people have confidence in his ability to keep them?  Because the Lord keeps his promises.  He keeps his word.  His Word can be trusted in all generations!

The Geneva Bible notes on v. 5 declare:  “Because the Lord’s word and promise is true and unchangeable, he will perform it and preserve the poor from this wicked generation.”

So, the right interpretation of Psalm 12:7 need not be “either it is about the preservation of Scripture or it is about the preservation of God’s people,” but “both, and.”  This is the way Matthew Poole understood it when he said that the meaning of v. 7 is that God’s preservation refers to “either:  (1) the poor and needy, ver. 5, from the crafts and malice of this crooked and perverse generation of men, and for ever. Or, (2) The words or promises, last mentioned, ver. 6.”

There is a joining here of two great and related doctrines. God keeps his Word and God keeps his people.  God preserves his Word and God preserves his people.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Vision (7.17.15): Josephus on the Preservation of God's Word

Flavius Josephus (c. 37-100 AD) was a Jewish military leader and historian who was roughly a contemporary of the apostle Paul.  Modern historians have found the writings of Josephus to be an invaluable source for understanding the religion and history of Israel during Biblical times.  In his work titled The Jewish Wars, for example, Josephus provides a vivid eyewitness description of the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD.

In an apologetic work titled Against Apion, Josephus defends the Jewish people and religion against its pagan critics.  As part of that defense, Josephus describes the meticulous care which the Jews of his day gave to the handling and transmission of the Old Testament Scriptures:

We have given practical proof of our reverence for our own Scriptures.  For, although such long ages have now passed, no one ventured either to add, or to remove or to alter a syllable; and it is an instinct with every Jew, from the day of his birth, to regard them as the decrees of God, to abide by them, and, if need be, cheerfully to die for them.  Time and again ere now the sight has been witnessed of prisoners enduring tortures and death in every form in the theatres, rather than utter a single word against the laws and the allied documents (Against Apion, I.8).

Since Jesus himself and the apostles were Jews, we can imagine that they shared a similar sentiment regarding the Scriptures.  This same spirit is evidenced when Jesus said things like:  “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17).  Such statements provide the vital Biblical proofs which support the doctrine of the providential preservation of God’s Word.

We can rely on the faithfulness of God’s Word, because God has been faithful to keep it.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Text Note: 2 Samuel 24:13 [1 Chronicles 21:12]

I ran across this text and translation issue when preparing to preach last Sunday morning’s sermon on 2 Samuel 24.

The Issue:

The issue here relates to the prophet Gad’s communication to David of the three possibly punishments he might choose in response to his unauthorized census of the fighting men of Judah and Israel.

The traditional Hebrew Masoretic text lists the options as seven years of famine, three months of flight, or three days of pestilence.

This presents a harmonization dilemma, however, with the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 21:12 which lists the options as three years of famine, three months of flight, and three days of pestilence.

Translations which follow the Hebrew Masoretic text follow it in maintaining seven years of famine.  In addition to the Geneva Bible, the King James Version, and the New King James Version, this is also the reading followed by the NASB.

A number of modern translations, however, change the “seven” to “three,” thus bringing 2 Samuel 24:13 into harmony with 1 Chronicles 21:12. This is true of the NIV and of the translations which follow the English Revised Version tradition, such as the RSV, the NRSV, and the ESV.

External Evidence:

The Hebrew Masoretic text of 2 Samuel 24:3 reads sheba shanim ra-ab (“seven years of famine”).  There are no Hebrew manuscripts that support the reading of “three years of famine.”  The LXX, however, does read tria ete limos (“three years of famine”).

The modern translations which depart from the Hebrew Masoretic text do so on the basis of the conjecture that the LXX represents the original and best reading, even though there are no extant Hebrew manuscripts which support this reading.

The ESV explains its use of “three” at 2 Samuel 24:13 with this footnote:  “Compare 1 Chronicles 21:12, Septuagint; Hebrew seven.”

Internal Evidence:

 Again, the traditional reading presents a significant challenge for harmonization with 1 Chronicles 21:12.  Is this an example of an outright and irrefutable contradiction or error?  Here are some notes from my sermon on Sunday in which I address this challenge:

How do we reconcile 2 Samuel 24:13 with its parallel in 1 Chronicles 21:12, which says three years of famine, paralleled with three months of falling to the foes, and three days of pestilence?  Compare:

1 Chronicles 21:12 Either three years' famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me.

Is this an irreconcilable contraction with 2 Samuel 24 or an inexplicable error?  We need to consider three things:

First, we need to remember that the ancient Hebrews upheld the total infallibility of Scripture and yet saw no contradiction in having the two accounts in the Bible.

Second, we might ponder whether the problem might be in us (in our dullness) rather than in the text.

Finally, we need to consider reasonable explanations that might be given.  The Puritan expositor Matthew Poole is typically helpful.  In his commentary on this passage, he suggests the possibility that Chronicles “speaks exactly of those years of famine only which came for David’s sin” while 2 Samuel “speaks more confusedly and comprehensively” of seven years which might have included the three previous years of famine which came as the result of the sin of Saul (see 2 Samuel 21:1:  “Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year…..”) as well as the present year in which David’s census was taken.  Thus, the seven years of 2 Samuel and the three years of Chronicles might be satisfactorily harmonized. This is also the interpretation offered in the notes to the Geneva Bible:  "For three years of famine were past for the Gibeonites' matter; this was the fourth year to the which should have been added other three years more, 1 Chron. 21:12."


The Hebrew Masoretic text of 2 Samuel 24:13 is to be affirmed.  It is clearly the more difficult textual reading due to the apparent difficulties with its parallel in 1 Chronicles 21:12.  If it was not the original reading, then it is hard to understand why it would have been created.

Advocates of the modern critical Hebrew text would suggest that the LXX preserves the proper, original reading, although no extant Hebrew manuscript supports this reading.  They apparently overlook what appears to be the more likely possibility that the LXX translator was attempting to harmonize 2 Samuel with 1 Chronicles, reflecting the same discomfort expressed by contemporary interpreters.  This decision also represents a glaring inconsistency in the approach of proponents of the modern critical text in that they typically criticize the traditional text for readings based on slight textual support.  Here, however, they adopt a conjectural reading which is only supported by a single versional witness.  


Friday, July 10, 2015

The Vision (7.10.15): Calvin on the Providential Preservation of Scripture

In his classic systematic theological work The Institutes of the Christian Religion, the foundational Reformer John Calvin articulates the doctrine of the providential preservation of Scripture (see Book One, Chapter VIII).

As part of his historical survey of how God has preserved his Word through the ages, Calvin discusses the time when the Greek tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes “ordered all the books to be burned” (as recorded in the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees).  Calvin observes:

….let us rather ponder here how much care the Lord has taken to preserve his Word, when, contrary to everybody’s expectation, he snatched it away from a most cruel and savage tyrant, as from a raging fire.  Let us consider how he armed godly priests and others with so great constancy that they did not hesitate to transmit to their posterity this treasure redeemed, if necessary at the expense of their own lives; and how he frustrated the whole fierce book hunt of rulers and their minions.  Who does not recognize as a remarkable and wonderful work of God the fact that those sacred monuments, which the wicked have persuaded themselves had utterly perished, soon returned and took their former place once more, and even with enhanced dignity?

He later adds:

By countless wondrous means Satan with the whole world has tried either to oppress it or overturn it, to obscure and obliterate it utterly from the memory of men—yet, like the palm, it has risen ever higher and has remained unassailable.

Calvin held not only that God had inspired his Word but that he also had preserved his Word in all ages.  This understanding of the providential preservation of Scripture came to be reflected in the classical Reformed confessions like the Westminster Confession and the Second London Baptist Confession when they affirm that the Scriptures “being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them” (2LBCF, Chapter One, “Of the Holy Scriptures”).  Though traditional and evangelical Christians in the modern age have generally articulated and defended the divine inspiration of the Bible, they have been less confident and clear in their defense of its providential preservation.  Let us be vigilant to uphold both these vital doctrines.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeffrey Riddle

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Word Magazine # 39: Should John 5:3b-4 be in the Bible?

I posted to this evening Word Magazine 39: Should John 5:3b-4 be the Bible?  In this episode I weigh the external and internal evidence regarding this controversial passage on the angel stirring the waters at the pool of Bethesda.  I conclude that the traditional text, which includes these verses, should be affirmed.

One of the strongest arguments in favor of the inclusion of John 5:3b-4 is the fact that it appears in one of the oldest uncial Greek manuscripts, Codex Alexandrinus.  I have also posted a brief study of John 5:3-4 in Codex Alexandrinus here, in which I note some of the peculiarities of Codex A's text of the passage.


Text Note: John 5:3b-4

Image:  Excerpt from John 5 in Codex Alexandrinus (see notes in margin on John 5:3-4)

I.  The issue:

The modern critical text, and translations based on it, omits the account of the angel stirring the water in John 5:3b-4.  The traditional text, and translations based on it, includes this passage.  Compare translations based on the traditional text (disputed portion in bold):

KJV John 5:3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

NKJV John 5:3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.

II.  External Evidence:

Note:  We are dealing here with vv. 3b-4 together but there are some variations, noted below, between vv. 3b and 4 separately among manuscripts.

The traditional text (including vv. 3b-4) is supported in general by the following:

Greek witnesses:  A (though NA-28 indicates that v. 3b is missing in the original but it appears in a corrected hand), C (apparently includes in a corrected hand), K, L (apparently includes v.4,  but missing v. 3b), Gamma, Delta, Theta, Psi, 078, family 1, family 13, 565, 579, 700, 892, 1241, 1424, and the vast Majority tradition.

Versions:  The Vulgate and part of the Old Latin apparently support the inclusion of v. 3b, while the Old Latin (with minor variations) and the Clementine Vulgate support the inclusion of v. 4.  The traditional text is also supported by the Syriac Peshitta and the Syriac Harklean and, in part, by the Coptic Bohairic.

Church Fathers:  Of note is the fact that v. 4 is cited in the writings of the Church Father Tertullian (c. 220 AD).

The modern critical text (omitting vv. 3b-4) is supported by the following:

Greek witnesses:  p66, p75, Aleph, B, C (original hand), D (though it apparently includes v. 3b), T, W [supplement] (though it apparently includes v. 3b), 33 (though it apparently includes v. 3b).

Versions:  Individual Latin mss. f and l (though they apparently include v. 3b), Latin ms. q, the Stuttgart Vulgate (2007), the Curetonian Syriac, and the Coptic.

To help sort out some of the variations on the inclusion/exclusion of vv. 3b and 4, according to the NA-28, compare:

Include v. 3b but exclude v. 4
Exclude v. 3b but include v. 4
Greek codex D
Greek codex A
Greek codex W [supplement]
Greek codex L
Greek codex 33

Individual Latin ms. f

Individual Latin ms. l

Evaluative notes on external evidence:

First, it is obvious that there has been much textual activity around vv. 3b-4, indicating serious early controversy over their transmission.

Second, closer examination of the passage in the online version of Codex Alexandrinus (p. 45 recto, column 2, lines 13-14) indicates that the NA-28 apparatus notes may be somewhat misleading regarding vv. 3b-4.  Though some corrections to vv. 3-4 are included in the margin, these verses seem to be part of the original text of Codex A.  See this study of John 5:3-4 in Codex Alexandrinus.

Third, one might give weight to the fact that two papyri omit vv. 3b-4.  This should be tempered, however, by the following considerations:  (a) the recognition that the papyri evidence, in general, is limited, and it reflects traditions from only one general geographical area; (b) the weighing of the two individual papyri cited here.  Of p66, in The Story of the New Testament Text (SBL, 2010), Robert Hull notes, “The manuscript contains more than 400 singular readings, nearly half of them the result of carelessness in copying, and most of them corrected by the scribe himself” (p. 116).  Of p75, Hull notes “its text is remarkably similar to that of Codex Vaticanus; in fact, p75 and B are more closely related than any other NT manuscripts” p. 117).

Fourth, the conclusion that must be reached, in the end, is that the exclusion of vv. 3b-4, like so many other points of textual difference between the traditional and modern texts, rests primarily on the evidence of two codices:  Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.

III.  Internal Evidence:

In his Textual Commentary [Corrected Ed., 1975], Metzger treats v. 3b and v. 4 separately.

First, he notes that “a variety of witnesses” add v. 3b, speculating they do so, “perhaps in order to explain the reference in v. 7 to the troubling of the water” (p. 209 here and in other references below).  He then adds that the reading is lacking in “the oldest and best witnesses” (citing p 66, p75, Aleph, the original hand of A, and B) and that it includes “two non-Johannine words” [ekdechesthai and kinesis].  Two questions immediately arise for the reader:  (1) How do we know what the “oldest and best witnesses” are?  And (2) How do we know what is and is not within the limits of the Johannine vocabulary?

Second, with regard to v. 4, Metzger declares definitively that it is a “gloss” whose “secondary character” is clear in four ways:

(1) It is absent from “the earliest and best witnesses” (citing again p66, p75, Aleph, and B, etc.).

(2) He notes that there are “asterisks or obeli” that “mark the words as spurious in more than twenty Greek witnesses.”  Note:  The manuscripts he lists here, however, are all relatively late ones:  S, Delta, Pi, 047, 1079, 2174.  Could these marks indicate not that the text is “spurious” (for why then would the verse have been included?) but an acknowledgement of conflict in textual transmission?

(3) “The presence of non-Johannine words or expressions.”  He gives these examples:  kata karion, embaino [of going into the water], ekdechomai [expecting, awaiting], katechomai [to hold fast, to hold back], kinesis [movement], tarache [disturbance, stirring], and nosema [disease].  He adds that the last three three words appear only here in the NT.  Again, we must question how Metzger (or anyone else) is able to define so authoritatively the limits of Johannine vocabulary.  He also displays here circular reasoning.  For if v. 3b is considered authentic, one these words (kinesis) is definitely Johannine.   Is this conceivable for John?  Yes, it is.  Compare his limited use of the term “The Twelve” to refer to the twelve disciples in John 6:67, 70, 71; 20:24.

(4) He notes that since the passage is missing “in the earliest and best manuscripts” it “is sometimes difficult to make decisions among alternative readings.”  This seems, however, to be more of an expression of the difficulty of determining the eclectic modern critical text than an objection to the traditional text.

Edward F. Hills notes that the disputed passage is cited by Tertullian in a theological reference to baptism (see The King James Version Defended, pp. 145-146).  He quotes Tertullian as saying, “Having been washed in the water by the angel, we are prepared for the Holy Spirit.”  He also notes its citation in Didymus (c. 379 AD) and Chrysostom (c. 390 AD).  He notes:  “These writers, at least, appear firmly convinced that John 5:3b-4 was a genuine portion of the New Testament text.”   He adds that the text was also included in the Diatessaron by Tatian (c. 175 AD), “which also strengthens the evidence for its genuineness by attesting to its antiquity.”

How then did the text come to be omitted?  Hills cites a theory by Hilgenfeld and Steck:

These scholars point out that there was evidently some discussion of the Church during the 2nd century concerning the existence of this miracle-working pool.  Certain early Christians seem to have been disturbed over the fact that such a pool was no longer to be found at Jerusalem.  Tertullian explained the absence of this pool by supposing that God had put an end to its curative powers in order to punish the Jews for their unbelief.  However, this answer did not satisfy everyone, and so various attempts were made to remove the difficulty through conjectural emendation.  In addition to those documents which omit the whole reading there are others which merely mark it for omission with asterisks and obels.

Hills also point out that the entire passage shows evidence of having been tampered with by “rationalistic scribes” noting as an example the fact that the spelling of the place name for the pool in v. 2 varies widely.   Compare:

Bethesda:  A, C, K, N, etc. (Majority reading)

Bethsaida:  p66 (corrected hand), p75, B, etc.

Bethsaidan:  p66 (original hand)

Belzestha:  D

Bethzatha:  Aleph, (L), 33, and the Old Latin (the reading adopted by the modern critical text)

Though Hills’ suggestion is worth consideration, the truth is that the reasons this passage came into dispute are now lost to us in the mists of the past.  One might speculate that it concerned disputes over the theology of angels (cf. Col 2:18; Rev 19:10; 22:9).  We will likely never know why the passage came into dispute.

In a commentary published in 1947 Edwyn Hoskyns concluded:

The passage is either a gloss added to explain v. 7, or it belonged to the original text of the gospel, and it was struck out in order to avoid giving support to popular pagan practices connected with sacred pools and streams…. (The Fourth Gospel [Faber and Faber, 1947]:  p. 265). 


John 5:3b-4 clearly has ancient support.  It was known by Tertullian, appeared in ancient codices like Alexandrinus, and was adopted by the majority as the traditional reading.  Its absence is supported by the two major heavyweights of modern text criticism:  Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.  Though it is missing in two ancient papyri, one of those (p66) is notorious for it omissions, and the other (p75) apparently reflects the same stream as that represented by Vaticanus.

The arguments against the text by Metzger seem to rely on circular reasoning. He assumes that Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are “the earliest and best manuscripts” and then reasons that if the passage does not appear in those witnesses it cannot be original.  Likewise, he assumes that any less common vocabulary used in disputed passage must necessarily be “non-Johannine.”

Though there is no clear reason known to us as to why vv. 3b-4 might have been omitted, there is also no clear explanation as to why these words might have been added.  The ancient church clearly accepted 5:3b-4 as authentic, as did the Reformed Fathers.  One wonders if the passage’s exclusion in the modern critical text of the nineteenth century might not have been shaped by an Enlightenment influenced bias against the supernatural.  The comment on John 5:3-4 in The Orthodox Study Bible (based on the NKJV text of the Psalms and the NT) notes that these verses are “often omitted from modern English translations,” but adds, “The role of spiritual powers in the world must never be discounted” (p. 224).

I see no compelling reason to exclude John 5:3b-4 from consideration as part of the legitimate text of Scripture. 

Friday, July 03, 2015

The Vision (7.3.15): Reflections on July 4 and Marriage

If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:5).

What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder (Matthew 19:6).

We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king (1 Peter 2:17).

There is supposedly a Chinese blessing (or is it a curse?) which states:  “May you live in interesting times.”  These are, without doubt, interesting times (but are not all times equally so?).  As we move toward the July 4 holiday in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage, we have much to contemplate.

What does this mean for believers and churches who now become “conscientious objectors” to the law of the land?   One widely read response article suggested that Christians must now expect “to have to learn how to live as exiles in our own country.”  The idea of believers as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” does have a Biblical ring to it (cf. Hebrews 11:13).  Some are already anticipating (and advocating) the revocation of tax-exemption for Biblically faithful churches (see this article).

Over twenty years ago, now, I served for two years as a missionary in Eastern Europe just after the fall of communism.  We may have much to learn in the future from believers who lived through those times.  For one thing, when believers married they held two services.  One was a secular service at the local courthouse, so that they might be married in the eyes of the state.  The other was a religious service in the church, so that they might be married in the eyes of God.

Some have suggested parallels between this Supreme Court ruling and the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.  Though abortion became the law of the land, Christians were able to bear witness to the conscience of the nation regarding the fundamental value of human life.  Will we now have the opportunity to bear witness to the culture of the fundamental winsomeness and beauty of marriage as a one-flesh covenant union between one man and one woman that lasts a lifetime (Genesis 2:24)?

If past experience in other nations is any evidence, the changing of marriage laws will likely not increase interest in marriage, but we will probably see its secular value decline. Already, we have seen many young people choosing cohabitation and having children out of wedlock. This is the new normal for many.

“If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”   We can continue to be faithful to God’s word.  We can honor the king, so long as that does not compromise our consciences.  We can be witness to this generation.  Writing all the way back in 1996, New Testament scholar Richard B. Hays offered a quotation suggesting the unique challenges (and opportunities) that might come in the future for a Biblical construal of marriage, suggesting it might “become nearly as radical a choice as monasticism, a counter-cultural thing” (as cited in The Moral Vision of the New Testament, p. 374).

We need to learn to speak about Biblical marriage in a pagan culture the way the Church Father Tertullian did when he wrote in the third century (Ad Uxorem, II.8):

Beautiful the marriage of Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice.

They are both servants of the same Master.  Nothing divides them either in flesh or spirit.

They are two in one flesh, and where there is one flesh there is also one spirit.

They pray together, they worship together; instructing one another, strengthening one another.

Side by side they visit God’s church; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations.

They have no secrets from one another; they never bring sorrows to each other’s hearts.

Unembarrassed they visit the sick and assist the needy.  They give alms without anxiety.

Psalms and hymns they sing.  Hearing and seeing this Christ rejoices.  To such as these He gives His peace.

Where there are two together, there also He is present; and where He is, there evil is not.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle