Wednesday, December 30, 2015
I sat down today and recorded WM # 44: Hendriksen and the Ending of Mark. Here are some notes I used for this episode:
A friend in Hong Kong recently emailed me to say that he had been reading William Hendriksen’s commentary on Mark and was puzzled by his comments on the ending of the Gospel. He wrote: “Since Hendricksen is a much respected commentator for reformed Christians, do you think you could comment on his writing concerning Mark's ending soon?” This WM is in response to his request.
Who is William Hendriksen?
See his bio from the Banner of Truth website. Hendriksen (1900-1982) was a Christian Reformed minister and Bible scholar, born in the Netherlands, whose family immigrated to the US when he was 11 years of age. He went to Calvin College, Calvin Seminary, and got a ThD from Princeton.
His book More than Conquerors on the interpretation of Revelation was the first book published by Baker Books in 1940.
Hendriksen is perhaps best known for his New Testament Commentary series. He wrote the commentaries covering Matthew through Titus, and the remainder was completed by Simon Kistemaker. These commentaries have become a favorite of Reformed ministers and laymen for their generally conservative and Reformed perspective on the NT.
The issue: If such a respected scholar did not accept the traditional ending of Mark, why should we?
Hendriksen on the Ending of Mark:
The Mark commentary was completed in 1975. After 16:8 we find an excursus titled, “The Problem with Respect to Mark 16:9-20” (pp. 682-687), which begins with the question, “Did Mark write verses 9-20?”
After this discussion, the author provides notes on Mark 16:9-20 (pp. 687-693).
We will focus on his comments in the excurses (pp. 682-687). After an initial survey of opinions, he notes two key points. First, did Mark write Mark 16:9-20? Second, if the answer to the first question is NO, does this mean that Mark was meant to end at Mark 16:8?
The answer to the first question is NO, as WH states, “I do not believe that Mark wrote Mark 16:9-20” (p. 682).
He provides two reasons, based on (1) External Evidence; and (2) Internal Evidence.
Let’s look at each and provide a brief response:
(1) WH on External Evidence:
WH notes that Mark 16:9-20 is missing in Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. It is also missing in the Old Latin Codex k, the Sinaitic Syriac, “and other very early manuscripts” (p. 683).
He adds that Clement of Alexandria and Origen “seem not to have known these verses” (p. 683).
He also cited Eusebius and Jerome as saying that the traditional ending was missing in early manuscripts.
WH fails to discuss positive evidence for the traditional ending. It appears in codices A, C, D, and the vast majority.
It is also cited by the church Father Justin and Irenaeus. The latter explicitly cites Mark 16:19 and identifies it as coming from the end of Mark.
Another respected Reformed Dutch scholar reached a very different conclusion given the same evidence:
Jakob Van Bruggen, The Future of the Bible (Thomas Nelson, 1978): p. 131:
There are only three known Greek manuscripts that end at 16:8, and one of them has a large open space after verse 8. All the remaining Greek manuscripts contain verses 9-20 after Mark 16:1-8, and most of them do not have a single note or insertion of other data. Mark 16:1-20 has both the authority of the Majority Text, as well as the authority of oldest text. If it still remains uncertain whether Mark 16:9-20 is well attested textually, then very little of any of the text of the New Testament is well attested.
As for the Eusebius and Jerome comments, see Dean John Burgon’s book The Last Twelve Verses of Mark (reprinted by Sovereign Grace Printers, 2000), chapter five “The Alleged hostile witness of certain early Church Fathers proved to be an imagination of the critics” (pp. 116-147).
Among other things, Burgon notes that Clement of Alexandria also never quotes from the ending of Matthew but no one has argued that Matthew 28 is not original to the first Gospel (p. 117).
He challenges both the Eusebius reference (pp. 119-129) and the Jerome citation (pp. 129-135).
(2) WH on Internal Evidence:
He gives three arguments:
He compares vv. 1-8 with vv. 9-20 and notes:
vv. 1-8 4 unique words
vv. 9-20 14 unique words
He focuses on the conjunction kai:
vv. 1-8 8 times (once per verse)
vv. 9-20 6-7 times (c. once per two verses)
He focuses on the fact that in v. 7 the young man tells the women to tell the disciples Jesus will appear to them in Galilee and in vv. 9-20 there is no explicit mention of an appearance in Galilee.
Arguments based on style are notoriously difficult because they usually involve subjective judgments based on limited evidence.
WH’s arguments are particularly weak because he only compares vv. 1-8 and vv. 9-20. He makes no comparison with passages of similar length in other sections of Mark.
Mark 16:9-20 exhibits the normal variety found in other passages of similar length in Mark.
See especially Maurice Robinson’s analysis in “The Long Ending of Mark as Canonical Verity” in David Alan Black, Ed. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark (B & H, 2008): pp. 40-79 (especially pp. 65-66).
For the use of the conjunction kai and the conjunction de in Mark 16:9-20, see the discussion in Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark (Pickwick, 2014): 159-160.
The Galilee argument is weak. No reference to Galilee does not mean that this was not the setting for some of the appearances recorded in vv. 9-20.
Having rejected the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20, Hendriksen turns to his second question. If 16:9-20 is not original, does this mean Mark was meant to end at 16:8?
Unlike many modern interpreters (like John MacArthur or Dan Wallace) Hendriksen concludes an original ending at 16:8 as improbable, but he offers no explanation for how Mark ended or what happened to the “real” ending, noting instead, “I have no desire to add to the confusion” (p. 687).
He concludes that “no sermon, doctrine, or practice should be based solely upon its contents” (p. 687).
For a response to this kind of viewpoint see past Word Magazines:
Return to the original issue: If such a respected scholar did not accept the traditional ending of Mark, why should we?
I would respectfully say that WH was wrong on the matter of text. This does not mean that his commentaries are not useful, but they should be read with discernment and caution.
Hendriksen, like many other Reformed and conversative evangelicals, was deeply influenced by the currents of the modern historical critical method.
For the influence of the academy on conservative scholars, see especially Ian H. Murray’s Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950-2000 (Banner of Truth, 2000), particularly chapter seven “‘Intellectual Respectability’ and Scripture” (pp. 173-214). Look here for my review of the book. Note: Murray does not critique Hendriksen but he does review men like F. F. Bruce, Alistair McGrath, and others. But his comments in this chapter are relevant to this discussion, as when he observes:
The academic approach to Scripture treats the divine element—for all practical purposes—as non-existent. History shows that when evangelicals allow that approach their teaching will sooner or later begin to look little different from that of liberals (p. 185).
In general, we might conclude it is safer to rely on older commentators (like Calvin, Henry, Poole, Spurgeon, etc.).
We should not be dispirited. Quite the contrary, it is clear that many are beginning to question the embrace of the modern critical text. As one example of that see Keith Mathison’s recent blog post on Nicholas Lunn’s book defending the traditional ending of Mark:
This may have been the most surprising book I read in 2015. My thoughts on the ending of Mark have been basically settled for over 20 years. I have long been convinced that the original ending of Mark was at 16:8. Lunn’s book has caused me to go back and take another look at the evidence and seriously reconsider my position. He provides a very thorough and helpful examination of the external and internal evidence. His consideration of the linguistic argument is particularly good. In my opinion, Lunn’s book demonstrates that the case for the longer ending of Mark is a lot stronger than many of us have been led to believe, and he certainly demonstrates that the case for the shorter ending is a lot weaker. It will be interesting to see whether his work re-opens the debate and changes any minds.
We can only hope that this trend will continue.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Book Review: S. C. Gwynne's "Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson"
Note: I read Gwynne's Rebel Yell last summer and wrote this review. I have not been able to find another use for the review so I'm sharing it here. You can also read the seven part series on the piety of Jackson I did back in 2011 after reading Dabney's Life and Campaigns (Part one, two, three, four a, four b, five, six, seven).
S. C. Gwynne, Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson (Scribner, 2014): 672 pp.
In a bibliographic appendix to this work, the author notes that there have been no less than eight significant biographies of famed Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson since 1864. To these now may be added this contemporary work by journalist S. C. Gwynne, author of the celebrated 2010 book Empire of the Summer Moon, a biography of the lesser known Comanche chief Quanah Parker. Gwynne’s new biography is a compelling portrait of Jackson with plentiful contemporary relevance.
Gwynne, by and large, presents a sympathetic portrait of Jackson, giving special attention to and admiration for his military tactics during the early years of the American civil war. Gwynne traces Jackson’s life from his upbringing as an orphan in western Virginia (which later became the state of West Virginia), to his enrollment as an ill prepared student at West Point where, by dint of hard work, he rose to graduate seventeenth in his celebrated class, to his heroism in the Mexican-American War, to his appointment as an overall ineffective physics professor at Virginia Military Institute (VMI), to his meteoric rise to national and international fame as a general in the Confederate army, who won one unlikely battle after another against superior forces until he was mortally wounded by what today would be termed “friendly fire” in the aftermath of his stunning 1863 victory at Second Manassas.
Gwynne also gives intriguing insights into Jackson’s personal life. This includes details about his close relationship with his beloved sister Laura, whose pro-Union sympathies later led to their permanent breaking of ties. It also includes descriptions of Jackson as a family man who grieved the loss of his first wife Ellie, who died delivering their stillborn son. His beloved father-in-law, George Junkin, the Presbyterian minister and President of what was then Washington College, who had served as a mentor and surrogate father to Jackson, also allied with the Union and moved North before the war began. Gwynne also describes Jackson’s friendship with his sister-in-law, the poetess Maggie Junkin, and speculates that the two of them might have married had they not adhered to the high Presbyterian interpretation of the Old Testament which forbad a man’s re-marriage to a sister-in-law on the basis of “lines of separation.” Eventually, Jackson did happily remarry Anna Jackson, and he was able briefly to meet their beloved newborn daughter in the days before his death.
Much attention is also given to Jackson’s staunch Calvinistic and Presbyterian faith. In the pre-war years he served as a deacon in the Lexington, Virginia Presbyterian church and organized a Sunday School for slaves, despite the disfavor this brought from some of his fellow white gentry who held that such educational gatherings were illegal.
Gwynne presents Jackson as a man of contradictions. In the pre-war years he was, in fact, not an advocate of Southern secession. His aversion to war came from the fact that he was a military man. He knew war would be incalculably gruesome and costly. Once the war began, however, he was a furious and committed commander. In civilian life he was a hypochondriac who suffered with various ailments and sought eccentric treatments. In the war years these phantom maladies disappeared, and he drove his body and those of his troops to exhaustion. He could be warm and affectionate with close family but was often socially awkward in public and a stern disciplinarian with underlings. In the pre-war classroom he was an ineffective teacher whom his pupils called “Tom Fool” behind his back, but once the war began he proved himself a natural leader of men and a brilliant tactician.
Gwynne is particularly admiring of Jackson as a military leader. He suggests that Jackson’s success on the battlefield came from his willingness to drive his men to the limits of their physical abilities and his willingness to engage in vicious and costly battles (unlike many of his Northern counterparts). Gwynne also suggests that Jackson advocated with his reluctant Southern superiors for “black flag” (take no prisoners) and “throw away the scabbard” (total war) tactics against their Union adversaries, to hasten the war’s end. He also suggests that the North’s use of such tactics under Meade and Sherman did bring the war to an eventual end, long after Jackson was gone.
The book’s opening includes a compelling comparison between Jackson and the abolitionist John Brown, whose execution Jackson providentially witnessed while supervising a squad of VMI cadets sent to serve as extra security guards. According to Gwynne:
Both Brown and Jackson were hard, righteous, and uncompromising men, religious warriors in the tradition of Oliver Cromwell, the ardently Christian political and military leader in the English Civil War. Both believed beyond doubt that God was on their side. Both believed that they were agents of God and that by killing the enemy they were doing his work (p. 24).
Though some might take exception to any comparison between the orderly Jackson and the vigilante Brown, Gwynne’s point in the comparison is to highlight the role that Jackson’s ardent Christian faith and his unfailing confidence in the sovereignty of God had in fundamentally shaping his character and propelling his legacy.
Special attention is naturally given near the book’s conclusion to the aftermath of Jackson’s death, the unparalleled outbreak of grief and despair this provoked in the South, and its contribution to the Southern “Lost Cause” sentiment. Gwynne suggests that Jackson’s death “triggered the first great national outpouring of grief for a fallen leader in the country’s history” (p. 556), inciting mourning that far exceeded the deaths of the American founding fathers. Even his Northern adversaries, including the abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, eulogized Jackson as a Christian gentleman, despite their grave disagreement with his commitment to the Southern cause. Gwynne also draws an intriguing comparison between the draining emotional reaction to Jackson’s death in the South and the parallel reaction to Lincoln’s death a few years later in the North (pp. 557-558).
Gwynne’s book has become even timelier given social and cultural events transpiring after its publication, including recent debate over the flying of the Confederate battle flag, in the aftermath of racially motivated violence. Two anecdotes are worth mentioning. The first is that in the pre-war years a crude secession flag with the words “Hurrah for South Carolina” was hoisted in Lextington on a flagpole where the American flag usually hung, but Jackson ordered it removed (p. 28). The second is that Jackson’s casket was draped not in the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia but in what was then the newly authorized national flag of the confederacy, which featured the familiar crossed bars of the battle flag on a pure white background (p. 553). Given Jackson’s sense of the importance of obedience to lawful authority (cf. Romans 13), it is unlikely that on principle he would have sanctioned in the post-war years the flying of the Confederate flag in deference to the American flag.
Gwynne especially succeeds in this book in reminding us that Jackson and others of his era were men of their times and that it is unwise to judge them simplistically or anachronistically. In his description of Jackson leading the VMI cadets off to Richmond to join the Southern army, for example, Gwynne offers this observation:
If the cadets who marched to Richmond with Thomas Jackson four days later had been asked why they were doing it, few would have replied that it was because of their convictions about slavery, or their beliefs about state sovereignty or any of the other great national questions that had been debated for so long. They would have told you then—as most of Stonewall Jackson’s soldiers in the army of the Confederate States of America would have told you later—that they were fighting to repel the invaders, to drive the Northern agressors from their homeland. That is why Virginia went to war. The great and complicated political reasons for secession, thundered about in Congress and in state legislatures, were not their reasons, which were more like those expressed by a captive Confederate soldier, who was not a slaveholder, to his puzzled Union captors. “I’m fighting because you’re down here,” he said. To Jackson, Lincoln had launched a war of aggression against sovereign states. That was why he fought, why he believed that God could not possibly be on the side of the aggressor (pp. 30-31).
Indeed, through his compelling portrait of Stonewall Jackson Gwynne reminds us that the historical and cultural circumstances surrounding the American Civil War and the individuals who were swept up in the events of the times are more complicated than often popularly imagined or appreciated.
Jeffrey T. Riddle, Pastor, Christ Reformed Baptist Church, Louisa, Virginia
Monday, December 28, 2015
Search and Known # 4: Ahimelech and Abiathar: Reconciling 1 Samuel 22:20; 2 Samuel 8:17; 1 Kings 4:4; etc.
Ethan McG. has posted another edition (# 4) of Searched and Known to sermonaudio.com. In this episode he and I discuss the challenge of a supposed contradiction posed in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible between 1 Samuel 22:20 (which notes that Ahimelech had a son named Abiathar) and 2 Samuel 8:17 (which notes that Abiathar had a son named Ahimelech).
I pointed out that the SAB referenced the commentary for this verse in the Oxford Annotated Bible suggesting that the names possibly "should be reversed," and that even the Macarthur's Study Bible note on 2 Samuel 8:17 says the text "is best accounted for by a scribal copying error." I suggested that these textual explanations do not confirm a sense of the text's authority and preservation for the reader and are unnecessary when reasonable and faithful interpretations of the traditional text are at hand.
Once we got into the discussion of this apparent contradiction I noted that it is actually more complex than it appears on the surface since it involves a number of related issues, especially regarding the role of Abiathar in the later Biblical narrative (1 Kgs chapters 1-4). Still, the best explanation of 2 Samuel 8:17 is simply that Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech, also had a son whom he named Ahimelech.
Here are some more extensive notes that I took on these and related texts, including a critique of an alternative explanation by C. J. E. Johnson.
When Ethan first told me our subject was going to be Ahimelech/Abiathar I thought we would be discussing Mark 2:26 and Jesus' reference to Abiathar (rather than Ahimelech), an often cited supposed "error." This reminded me of a perfectly awful (imho) article by Andrew Wilson on this topic that appeared in Christianity Today back in September 2015. The article has the dreadful title, "When Jesus Got the Bible Wrong: the Messiah made a 'mistake' for a good reason," and offers the fanciful explanation that Jesus intentionally made an errant reference to Abiathar (rather than Ahimelech) to make a theological point. This would be another example of an explanation that causes more mischief than help. Geisler and Howe's explanation of Mark 2:26 makes more sense than Wilson's when they point out that Jesus' statement simply is not an error since these things did happen "in the days of Abiathar the high priest" [i.e., during his lifetime, even if he was not yet high priest at the time when his father, Ahimelech, gave David the shewbread] (When Critics Ask, p. 370).
Thursday, December 24, 2015
Image; Modern view of Bethlehem
Note: Devotional adapted from last Sunday’s sermon on Hebrews 5:1-10.
So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee (Hebrews 5:5).
This verse speaks to the humility of Christ (cf. Phil 2:5-11). Just as the high priests of the Old Testament did not appoint themselves to their role, but they were appointed by God, so Christ, our great high priest, was appointed to his office by God the Father. This verse speaks to what we call “the covenant of redemption,” wherein, in ages past, the second person of the Godhead was decreed or appointed by the Father, in the divine counsels, to accomplish redemption, even as the Spirit was appointed to apply this redemption purchased by Christ. Christ was appointed to be our high priest by God the Father. The inspired author cinches his point by the citation of Psalm 2:7, “Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.”
This is a dangerous statement in that it is easily misunderstood. False teachers have misinterpreted such statements to say that Jesus was a mere creature or that he was only adopted or promoted to Sonship through some kind of meritorious service during his earthly life. To prove that this verse does not teach that Jesus was a mere creature we need to look back again to its citation in Hebrews 1:4-5 where we are told that Christ is greater than the angels (creatures) because his relationship to the Father is not like that between Creator and Creature, not like that between Maker and thing made, but like that between Father and Son, because they are of the same essence. Hebrews 1:3 teaches that Jesus is the “brightness” of the Father’s glory and “the express image of his person.” If you do not have a proper grasp of who Jesus is you cannot be a true follower of Jesus.
Christmas can be dangerous if one walks away from the manger scene thinking that Son of God only began to be at Bethlehem. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. But this was not the beginning of the Son of God. Recall how John begins the story of Jesus:
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
From all eternity God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Son of God was appointed to be our faithful high priest by God the Father in eternity past, and he faithfully accomplished the purpose for which he was sent. This same sentiment is also there in one of those best loved of verses: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Monday, December 21, 2015
One of the things I have frequently noted in discussing text criticism is the fact that the general academic understanding of the goal of text criticism has significantly shifted and changed over the last few decades. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the goal was the recovery of the original autograph. In contemporary text criticism this goal is seen as both impossible (since the closest one can do, according to modern text scholars, is approximate the text as it stood c. AD 200-300) and inappropriate (since the text of the Bible is not set in a rigid form but is a “living” text).
This shift in emphasis can especially be seen in the work of D. C. Parker (see The Living Text of the Bible [Cambridge, 1997], Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament [Oxford, 2014]).
Recently, I have run across several folk who have noted that this shift in definition of the goal of text criticism was already being anticipated and articulated in the mid-twentieth century. One frequently cited comment is that of Robert M. Grant of the University of Chicago in his Historical Introduction to the New Testament (Harper & Row, 1963):
The primary goal of New Testament textual study remains the recovery of what the New Testament writers wrote. We have already suggested that to achieve this goal is wellnigh impossible. Therefore we must be content with what Reinhold Niebuhr and others have called an ‘impossible possibility.’ Only a goal of this kind can justify the labours of textual critics and give credit to their achievements and to the distance between what they have achieved and what they have hoped to achieve (p. 51).
Indeed, Grant and others were already anticipating the “restorationist” goal of text criticism as an “impossible possibility.” Perhaps if traditional Christians would come to understand this shift they would also realize the risks inherent in giving stewardship of their Bibles over to modern academic text criticism. Then, they might also see the winsome stability of the Confessional Text.
Friday, December 18, 2015
Image: CRBC baptism service, August 2015
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession (Hebrews 4:14).
At the end of Hebrews 4:14, the inspired author draws to the point. Given the reality of Christ, the great high priest, he exhorts his hearers not to abandon the faith which they have embraced and professed. Thus, “let us hold fast [krateo, the verb means to grasp, to hold, to seize, or even, to arrest] our profession.”
What is meant by the term “profession”? The Greek word is homologia and it is usually translated as profession or confession. It is the declaration of one’s fundamental faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Compare:
Matthew 10:32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. 33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
Romans 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
Christianity requires public identification with Christ and public confession of one’s faith in Christ. In the revivalistic days of the American frontier making a profession of faith came to be associated with having some special religious experience or “walking the aisle.” This became an almost third sacrament (alongside the Biblical ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper) in many churches. But when we look at Scripture, it appears that the public stand for Christ and the public declaration of faith in Christ came at one’s baptism. The experience of the Ethiopian Eunuch sets the pattern:
Acts 8:35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. 36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? 37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. 38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
The inspired author of Hebrews is likely urging those who have professed faith in Christ and who have been baptized upon that profession not to waiver from that profession.
We might add that the foundational means the Lord has given us for the renewal and reaffirmation of our faith in Christ is the Lord’s Supper. Again, frontier evangelicals invented the idea of “rededication.” But Biblical rededication comes through the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper as a man examines himself and then takes the bread and cup in obedience to Christ’s command and in renewal of his commitment to Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:28).
Indeed, seeing that we have Christ as our great high priest, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess in him.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Thursday, December 17, 2015
I recently began reading through David Daniell’s “modern-spelling edition” of Tyndale’s 1534 English NT (a revision of Tyndale’s original 1525 work) [Yale, 1989]. Of interest is the canonical ordering of the books. As in the 1525 edition, Tyndale follows the order:
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon
1-2 Peter, 1-2-3 John, Hebrews, James, Jude
Of note, in particular, is the order of the General Epistles wherein he begins with the Petrine and Johanine epistles and then lists Hebrews, James, and Jude (followed by Revelation). As with the 1525 edition, Tyndale followed the order of books in Martin Luther’s 1522 NT (see the discussion in David Daniell, William Tyndale: A Biography [Yale, 1994]: pp. 110, 119-124). Luther’s moving of Hebrews, James, and Jude (followed by Revelation) out of the typical order reflected his sense of these books having a secondary importance. Though Tyndale follows this order, he does not appear to share Luther’s “canon within the canon” sentiments. The interesting thing to note is that at this point there is no “standard” way to order the NT books in an English translation, because, prior to 1525 there were no English translations of the NT from the original Greek. Tyndale’s English translation of the NT has a lasting impact but his (Luther’s) canonical order was not, in the end, embraced.
Also of interest is Tyndale’s prologue to Hebrews. With regard to authorship, he retains the traditional title “The Epistle of St. Paul Unto the Hebrews” but observes, “Now whether it were Paul’s or no I say not, but permit it to other men’s judgments, neither think I it to be an article of any man’s faith, but that a man may doubt of the author” (p. 345).
He notes the objections registered by some against the canonicity of Hebrews, based, in particular, on its theology of repentance, conversion, and apostasy in various passages. He mentions chapters 6, 10, 12, in particular. There are no verse divisions in the work (the first Greek NT with verse divisions was Stephanus’ fourth edition of 1551 and the first English Bible with verse divisions was the Geneva Bible in 1560). In the end, Erasmus defends the treatment of these topics in Hebrews and concludes his prologue by asking, “And seeing the epistle agreeth to all the rest of the scripture, if it be indifferently looked on, how should it not be of authority and taken for holy scripture?” (p. 347).
Friday, December 11, 2015
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
In last Sunday’s sermon we meditated on Hebrews 4:12-13. I noted that the phrase, “Word of God,” has at least three meanings in the NT. It can refer to Jesus himself, to the preaching of the gospel, and to the inscripturated or written word. I also noted that in Hebrews 4:12 I think the Word of God refers primarily to Scripture (especially given the context of reflection on Psalm 95:7-11 in Hebrews chapters 3-4). In Hebrews 4:12, the inspired author uses four terms to describe the Word of God:
1. The Word of God is quick [living; Greek participle zon; like the name Zoe, meaning “life”]. For the use of “quick” compare the traditional phrasing of the Apostles’ Creed which says Jesus will return to judge “the quick and the dead” (i.e., the living and the dead).
There are many who would like for the Bible to be dead. They would like to officiate at its funeral. There are those who would like to place the Bible behind velvet ropes in a museum, like some religious artifact, telling the curious, “People actually used to read this old book and to follow its precepts.” There are some who want to treat the Bible as a literary treasure to be perhaps admired and studied but not taken seriously spiritually. Like the Prodigal Son they would like to take some cultural inheritance from the Bible while they run off to some far country to indulge in riotous living.
But the inspired author reminds us here that his Word is alive, and so is the preaching that thunders from it. It is a living Word, because it proclaims a living Christ and a living hope in the gospel.
2. The Word of God is powerful [the Greek word is energes, root for the English word “energy” and “energetic”; some modern translations render the Greek term as “active” or “effective”]. The opposite of this would be weak, limp, ineffective. Some have slandered the character of the Word of God, but the inspired writer is standing up as a witness to give testimony to the Word of God’s power to change men’s hearts and lives, to shape them into conformity to Christ, and to preserve them faithful unto the end.
3. The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword. The comparative adjective “sharper” here comes from the Greek word tomos. It is also the root for the English word “atom.” An atom is the basic building block that cannot be cut or split without creating a great explosion of energy (i.e., It is a-tomos]. The Word of God is sharp; it is cutting. It has the ability to cut that which seems un-cut-able, to split that which seems un-split-able.
It is sharper than a two-edged (literally a double-mouthed) sword. This was the weapon of the Roman soldiers. The Word of God is like a finely honed weapon, like a well sharpened knife, that cuts to the heart spiritually speaking. It cuts away pretense from authenticity, the phony from the real. It separates the meat from the bones, the joint from the marrow. It is like a surgical scalpel in the hand of the Great Physician.
The Word of God cuts to the heart of the matter. It calls us to die to ourselves and to live for Christ. It calls us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross daily, and to follow him.
4. The Word of God is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The noun for “discerner” here is the Greek word kritikos, an adjective meaning “able to judge,” the root for the English word “critic.”
A critic is not merely someone who is critical, or who simply gives criticism to tear down. But a critic is one who has the ability or expertise to pass an informed judgment or to give an accurate evaluation. We need more than our own subjective judgments about what is right and wrong, noble or ignoble, praiseworthy or shameful, because “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
We need the authority of the Word of God in order to discern the appropriateness or inappropriateness of our own subjective experiences and to tell us what is godly and what is ungodly.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Image: Spurgeon with a slight wardrobe addition.
In last Lord’s Day Sunday School discussion at CRBC (which was eventually on the topic of the OT prophecies of the cross and resurrection of Jesus in Matthew) we had some preliminary discussion about the Regulative Principle (the conviction that our worship should be guided by what is commanded in Scripture) and the holidays.
Here are some resources on this topic for those who want to hear more:
Sermon on the Second Commandment (a basis for the Reformed doctrine of the Regulative Principle)
The 16 part Blog Series on The Westminster Directory of Worship, including this post “Touching Days and Places for Publick Worship” (Part 16) [click the label “The Directory for the Publick Worship of God” at the end of the post to read the others in the series].
And for a little [attempted] humor, try this post on Reformed Kwanzaa.
Wednesday, December 09, 2015
CRBC had a table at a community event on the Courthouse Square in Louisa on Saturday. We gave out Christian literature and a scripture booklet of the Gospel of John.
Here are a few pictures from the area around the Louisa Courthouse.
Image: Conversations at our table.
Image: Memorial for Confederate Soldiers
Image: Louisa Courthouse
Image: Latin inscription on the cornerstone of the Louisa Courthouse; Fiat Justitia Ruat Caelum ["Let justice be done though the heavens fall"].
Image: Patrick Henry marker
Image: Crank Building
Image: Festival scene
Tuesday, December 08, 2015
I posted Word Magazine # 43 Definitions and the Confessional Text today to sermonaudio.com. In this episode I give some feedback related to this video from RB Pastor Robert Truelove and his challenge to James White [modern critical text proponent] to debate Dr. Maurice Robinson [Byzantine text proponent].
I provide some of the background for this discussion relating to RB apologist James White’s tendency to confuse KJV-Onlyism with Reformed confessional critiques of the modern-critical text. Here is the excerpt from Theodore Letis’ combined review of James White and Gail Riplinger in Letis’ Ecclesiastical Text (1997) which I referenced:
JW and GR are both cut from the same bolt of cloth. Hence, the old saying holds true: “it takes one to know one.” They are, in fact, “kissing cousins.” In terms of religious genus. The very fact that White felt Riplinger’s book, New Age Versions (which will be addressed below), merited an entire book length reply indicates that he must have felt that her propositions were compelling enough to deserve such treatment [footnote: He does, of course, treat other authors as well as the movement itself, though he provides no historical analysis or even sociological analysis of the roots of this movement and its advocates. I believe this is because it is all rather close to his own religious point of reference]. In other words, her superficial treatment of the subject was, nevertheless, disturbing, enough for him to treat it seriously. This speaks as much about his grasp of the subject—or lack of—as it does about Riplinger’s effort (p. 222).
I also note that in his video Truelove claims that the titles of “traditional text” and “ecclesiastical text” should be reserved for those who hold to the Majority Text/Byzantine Text position. This got me thinking about definitions. I also make reference in this episode to the Confessional Bibliology FB group where this question has also been raised (see the related website here).
In an attempt to clarify matters, I suggested there are three camps or positions regarding what the proper text of the Greek NT (none of which include KJV-Onlyists) should be:
(1) Modern-critical text.
(2) Majority/Byzantine text.
(3) Textus Receptus.
Though I think Truelove’s claiming “traditional text” and “ecclesiastical text” exclusively for the Majority/Byzantine position is more than a little dubious, I suggested that the Textus Receptus position might be called the Reformed Confessional Text position or simply the Confessional Text position.