Friday, July 29, 2016
Image: Morning glory, North Garden, Virginia, July 2016 (photo credit: Bonnie Beach)
Note: Devotion taken from the sermon on Hebrews 12:1-3 from July 17, 2016.
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).
Jesus is described in this verse by two distinct terms:
First, he is the author [archegos: chief leader, prince, pioneer] of our faith. Notice that Jesus was not listed in the faith hall of fame in Hebrews 11. He is not merely as example of faith, but he is the source and ground of our faith. He is the author of it. Jesus is the one who must by grace light the fire of faith in a man’s heart. You cannot will yourself to be a man of faith, no matter how many “believe” plaques you put up in your home!
Second, he is the finisher [teleiotes: from telos, the end or goal; the perfecter; the one who brings to completion or maturity] of our faith. Not only is Jesus the one who is responsible for the authorship of our salvation, but he is also responsible for its completion. He is the source of our sanctification and our ultimate glorification. Think of a master craftsman who takes a dull object, a block of material and who fashions or finishes it until it becomes a work of art. Recall Paul’s words: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [epiteleo] it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
After calling Jesus by these two terms, the inspired author moves on to describe at least two aspects of Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith:
First: “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.”
This phrase at first sounds strange. What joy was set before a man who was enduring the excruciating pain of a brutal Roman execution? Certainly, this does not mean joy as the world understands it. In his suffering and death on the cross Jesus knew the soul satisfying joy of what his death was accomplishing. He was laying down his life for his friends. He was laying down his life as a ransom for many. He was purchasing the elect by his blood. More than that, he knew he was doing the will of God the Father. He was perfecting the plan of salvation, which had been formulated in the divine counsels in eternity past.
The language here of Jesus enduring the cross calls to mind the distinction that theologians have made between the active and passive obedience of Christ. His active obedience refers to his perfect law-keeping. His passive obedience refers to his glad resignation to the will of God. Paul describes this in his Christ hymn: “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8).
All this came through the cross. This is the only time in Hebrews where the word “cross [stauros]” explicitly appears. Thus, it has a climactic effect. There have been many references to the significance of the death of Jesus and, in particular, to the shedding of his blood as our priest and victim (e.g., Hebrews 9:11-14).
But now as we draw near to the end of Hebrews we have for the first time the explicit use of this powerful word: the cross. It is so precious a term that it seems the author does not want to over-use it, to make it common. It is as though he utters the word with care, reverence, reserve. You handle precious things very carefully. The cross for person in the first century would have been a term that had connotations of the greatest shame. Christians took that term and turned it around, understanding it to be a term of the greatest honor and glory.
Second, “he is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
This refers to the ultimate exaltation of Jesus. This has been a theme already noted in Hebrews going back to the very beginning (cf. Hebrews 1:3: “when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high”).
It assumes his resurrection from the dead, his appearances to his disciples, his ascension into heaven, his enthronement in the heavenlies, his present session or ruling, and it anticipates his coming again (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
Indeed, we must constantly look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday morning’s sermon on Hebrews 12:1-3:
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).
Notice the two exhortations in v. 1[as our English text renders it]:
First, let us lay aside every weight….
You don’t run a race wearing a tuxedo or ballroom gown or trying to carry a suitcase. You lay all the things that hinder you aside (witness how lightly clothed modern athletes are—to the point of immodesty—and recall that the ancient Greeks competed in the nude!).
He mentions especially the laying aside of sin [any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God].
Notice its description as that which “so easily besets us.” Sinners have a natural inclination to sin, because we are sinners by nature. It does not take any great effort to give in to sinful temptation. Sinning is like walking downhill. It is easy to do. It is the setting aside of sin and the striving toward godliness that requires labor and discipline and makes gains only by the grace of God.
Second, let us run with patience the race…
Notice again how the inspired author includes himself as a fellow participant. He is not looking on as a disinterested outsider. He is not an armchair quarterback. He also is in the race.
For running as a metaphor for the Christian life in Paul compare 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Philippians 3:13-14.
The word for race in 12:1 is agon. It is the root for our English word “agony.” The original Greek term also referred to an assembly, especially to see an athletic event. So it came to mean the place, like a stadium, where the event was held. At root it means a physical battle, struggle, or contest.
Notice that the modifying description of how the race is to be run: “with patience.” If you are on a long distance run, you do not measure the success or failure of the race merely by what happens in the first five minutes. The mention of patience necessarily requires the notion of encounter with difficulties and setbacks. One might get sidetracked in a race. One might stumble and fall and have to get up again. One might feel tired, thirsty, worn-out. But still he endures. He runs with patience. In the end, it is his endurance in the race that shows he is truly a believer (cf. Matthew 10:22; 24:13).
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Friday, July 15, 2016
Image: Butterfly bush, July 2016, North Garden, Virginia
Note: The devotion is taken from the conclusion of last Sunday morning’s sermon on Hebrews 11:30-40.
Hebrews 11:36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: 37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; 38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
We have seen these men and women of faith described in Hebrews 11. How can they help us?
From Jericho we learn that every victory is God’s victory (v. 30).
From Rahab we learn of God’s saving provision for all his elect who come under the scarlet ribbon of Christ’s blood (v. 31).
From the judges we learn of God’s use of sinful men and sinful circumstances (v. 32a).
From the kings and prophets we learn to “wax valiant in the fight” (vv. 32b-34)
From the string of testimonies to the saints who have suffered and died, those “of whom the world was not worthy,” who were believing, yet not receiving the fulfillment of the promise in their lifetimes (v. 39), we learn to endure (vv. 35-40).
How different is Biblical Christianity than the prosperity gospel!
The Christian faith, from the beginning, has been a suffering faith. We have long collected the accounts of our sufferings, from the Old Testament record of the prophets, to the Faith Chapter in Hebrews 11, to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, to modern memoirs of persecuted brethren.
The testimony was given several years ago of a young Muslim woman who had become a believer while a student in the US. When she returned home and her conversion was discovered, she was nearly beaten to death by her family members till providentially rescued. Of that experience she recalled that while being beaten she kept thinking, “You have a religion for which you are willing to kill. I now have a Savior for whom I am willing to die.” That makes all the difference. Let us live by faith.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Note: Today I posted to sermonaudio.com WM # 54 The Comma Johanneum and the Papyri. Below are some notes from this episode:
Back in February at the Erasmus conference at HBU, I listened to Dan Wallace’s plenary lecture in which he gave a somewhat standard talk repeating many of the Erasmus chestnuts, especially regarding the Comma Johanneum (CJ; 1 John 5:7b-8a) (see my summary here). At the close he summarized the external evidence, noting that the CJ is found in only nine extant Greek mss. and several of those are in marginal notes.
In my blog summary I wrote the following: “In the Q and A I asked about the number of papyri and later Greek mss. we have of 1 John. To say we only have 9 mss. with the CJ sounds devastating but there may not be that many extant mss. or early fragments of 1 John, so that the number that have the CJ might, in fact, be fairly respectable. DW did not know the details on the number of 1 John mss. off-hand.”
The question of the “early text” of 1 John has remained a question in my mind since that Q and A session. It re-emerged as I listed to James White’s recent comments on the DL regarding the CJ and the significance of the modern papyri finds, including his assertion that the papyri have unequivocably affirmed the printed modern critical text.
I want to address two issues relating to the CJ and the papyri:
1. What is the extant “early text” (i.e., papyri) evidence for 1 John?
2. What is the current modern academic assessment of the “early text” evidence for 1 John and the catholic epistles?
First: What is the extant “early text” (i.e., papyri) evidence for 1 John?
If you open the NA 28 (the most recent printed edition of the modern critical text, published in 2012) to the appendices you will find a listing of the papyri which have been discovered and catalogued by the German institute that records such things (pp. 792-799). There are 127 papyri listed. This number has increased with each new edition. There were only 98 papyri listed in the NA 27 (1993).
If you look through these listings of papyri, how many of the 127 would you guess include any evidence from 1 John? The answer is two.
The first is p9. It is listed as dating from the third century. It is kept at Harvard University. And it includes fragments of 1 John 4:11-12, 14-17. Obviously, it does not include 1 John 5 (including the CJ) at all.
The second is p74. It is listed as dating from the seventh century. It is kept in Cologne, Germany. Of note is the fact that p74 is our oldest example of a collection of Acts and the Catholic epistles. It is fragmentary with portions of Acts, James, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John (only vv. 6, 12), and Jude.
As for 1 John it includes: 1:1, 6; 2:1-2, 7, 13-14, 18-19, 25-26; 3:1-2, 8, 14, 19-20; 4:1, 6-7, 12, 16-17; 5:3-4, 9-10, 17. Though it includes fragments of 1 John 5, it is does not provide evidence on the CJ.
Conclusion: The extant papyri provide no direct evidence either for or against the CJ. The modern decision to exclude the CJ is not based on papyri finds of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Instead, it is based on acceptance of the authority of the uncials, especially Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, in the nineteenth century. As an aside we might note that the earliest citation of the text of the CJ is found in the controversial Spanish theologican Priscillian in his work Liber Apologeticus dated to c. AD 382. It also appears in some fourth century Latin Bibles.
Second: What is the current modern academic assessment of the “early text” evidence for 1 John and the catholic epistles?
To address this question I turned to Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger, Eds. The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford University Press, 2012).
The book includes the survey chapter by J. K. Elliott “The Early Text of the Catholic Epistles” (chapter 11, pp. 204-224). Note: Elliott is an emeritus professor of NT text criticism and an outspoken advocate of “thorough-going eclecticism.”
Let me share a few insights from Elliott’s summary of the “early text” of the catholic epistles, including 1 John. By “early text” he means the mss. whose date of writing precedes that of the great uncials (i.e., the papyri).
First, he addresses the current massive Editio Critica Maior (ECM) project. Interestingly he praises the editors for their willingness to deviate in some readings from the NA which he describes as “at one time seemingly promoted as the Standard Text, almost an immutable Textus Receptus redivivus” (p. 205). He also praises the editors for included notations (a bold dot) indicating “allowance for an alternative reading to be considered ‘of equal value’ to the running text” (p. 205).
Second, he addresses Canon. He notes that p74 is our earliest 8 book collection of Acts and the catholic epistles. There are only 30 such collections (whole or partial) prior to the ninth century. He notes the early recognition of the four Gospels and Paul’s writings, but the late acceptance of Revelation and the Acts-catholic epistles collection. See David Trobisch’s Paul’s Letter Collection (1994, 2001).
He observes: “The canonical status of each letter may well have affected the way in which their text was copied, in the same way as the apocryphal writings exhibit a relatively free textual tradition with frequent additions, contradictions, and exegetical changes” (p. 207).
Third, he addresses Text Types. He notes that the Münster Institute “has ceased using the old nomenclature of text types” (p. 207). He agrees with D. C. Parker that “these terms are awkward and no longer appropriate for use throughout the NT.” He calls text types “anachronistic remnants of an earlier period of NT textual criticism” (p. 208).
Fourth, he addresses Text Values. His point here is that it is illogical to judge early readings by their conformity to later readings. He adds that “to judge an early manuscript (or any manuscript, for that matter) by its level of agreement with the Nestle text attributes to that editorially concocted printed edition an unwarranted superiority, and betrays an arrogance worthy only of ruthless marketing ploys” (p. 209).
Fifth, he discuss the Witnesses. There are 8 papyri (and one awaiting publication, as of 2012) that might be dated earlier than the fourth century and one uncial fragment on parchment (codex 0206).
James: p20, p23, p100, plus unpublished fragment
1 Peter: p72, p81, p125 0206
2 Peter: p72
1 John: p9
Jude: p72, p78
There are no “early witnesses” for 2 John and 3 John.
Sixth, he surveys these mss. noting their variations and affiliations.
Seventh, he offers his conclusions.
He begins by asking, “What do the early papyri add to our understanding of the textual heritage of the Catholic Epistles other than their early dates?” His answer is “But little” and “even to emphasize their early date is deceptive” (p. 223).
He continues: “The age of a manuscript is of no significance when assessing textual variation, unless we know how many stages there were between the autograph and that copy and also what changes were made at each of the intervening stages.” And then adds: “No one has such information” (p. 223).
True to his method (“thoroughgoing eclecticism”), he continues: “The age, number, and alleged pre-eminence of the manuscript should not be determinative. What matters are an awareness of those readings that are compatible with our author’s style, language, or theology…. Papyri may or may not support the reading deemed earliest, and their attestation deserves to be taken no more seriously than in any other manuscript witness" (pp. 223-224).
Borrowing from Shakespeare, Elliott closes by suggesting that the papyri have had “greatness thrust upon them” for two reasons: (1) they are all of “recent discovery” and (2) “the gullible believe that there is an unwarranted magic associated with their being written on papyrus” (p. 224).
There is little “early text” evidence for the catholic epistles in general and for 1 John in particular.
Modern academic text criticism is increasingly abandoning the concept of text types altogether and re-evaluating the role of the papyri in the reconstruction of the modern critical text.
Monday, July 11, 2016
Image: Hydrangea, Central Virginia, July 2016
I wonder how many pastoral prayers in Christian worship services throughout the nation yesterday lifted up petitions based on recent news headlines (e.g., racial tensions in America; police shootings in Dallas; etc.). Should our public prayers be based on the most recent news cycle, whatever their increasing brevity? My guess is that these items were the focus of many corporate prayers yesterday. I even heard a news item on the radio this morning which offered audio clips from various services (mainly in African-American churches in this report) from such prayers and announcements. Perhaps it gives a sense of relevance to a church’s ministry and to its prayer life to follow this route. My guess is most folk in the pews approve such prayers.
Still, I did not mention these matters in my pastoral prayer at CRBC yesterday. It was deliberate decision, a protest against media management of our liturgy. I do not say this to convey some kind of perverse Puritan “virtue-signaling” (I and my church are better/holier/more righteous than thou). In the past I have lifted up these sorts of news-driven requests (the latest reported shooting, natural disaster, scandal, public crisis, etc.). One might even argue for a Biblical precedent for such things in the court prophets. One might point to historical precedents in the various days of prayer, thanksgivings, and mourning over national events from the Puritans through Spurgeon and beyond. I’m not saying I will never offer prayer relating to some particular event of contemporary or national interest. I’m not saying the particular topics from last weekend should not be objects of prayer. We should pray for peace in our communities, for harmony among diverse ethnic groups, for those in authority (including the police). We do, in fact, make these objects of regular prayer in our corporate worship.
Again, I just don’t want our church’s prayer life dictated by secular media. I came to this conclusion particularly as I mulled over this most recent series of “if it bleeds, it leads” stories. Left-leaning media promoted isolated stories of police use of deadly force against black men who were under suspicion of having done something wrong. The press most likely did this in an election year to manipulate the black electorate into supporting Democratic candidates. Left-leaning pundits and even the President made rush to judgment statements, driven by similar political motivations and convictions, before it could possibly be made clear what had really happened. A sick man reacted with a racist and murderous attack on the police. More pundits, left and right, rush in to analyze, debate, and capitalize.
I want to opt out of this sort of man-made crisis as the focus of our corporate prayer. There is a real sense in which I do not want to be “Reformed and relevant.” I want the service of worship to be other-worldly and even irrelevant, humanly speaking. I can find precious little in Paul’s letters where he mentions with any specificity any event from contemporary Roman society and makes it an object of discussion or prayer in the gatherings of believers.
It was a quiet protest. No one else probably even noticed (though I suppose they might now if they read this post). But as a leader of public worship it left my conscience clear.
Friday, July 08, 2016
Image: Iris flowers, June 2016, North Garden, Virginia
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday morning's sermon on Hebrews 11:23-29.
Hebrews 11:24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; 25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; 26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
We see Moses here as a willful agent. He is no longer an infant. Theologians sometimes speak about the illusive “age of accountability.” Here the author simply says, “when he was come to years.”
What happened then? First, it says, “he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (v. 24).
Exodus 2:10 describes how the infant Moses was taken from the basket by Pharaoh’s daughter and was raised as her son. But it proceeds to say: “And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens….” (v. 11).
We might describe this as akin to Moses’ conversion. He separated himself from the world and associated himself with God’s people, lowly as they were.
As Paul wrote the Corinthians:
2 Corinthians 6:17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,
18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
In the opening of Romans, Paul describes himself as “separated unto the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1).
The question is: Where do you prefer to be? With whom do you prefer to be associated?
Two further descriptions are given:
First, in v. 25, it says Moses was, “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.”
From a wordly perspective it seems like a fool’s bargain. Would you rather suffer afflictions as a Christian (in some places that might mean being imprisoned or death; in others it might mean merely scorn and marginalization) or imbibe the pleasures of sin?
Some might wonder at the phrase “the pleasures of sin.” How can the inspired writer say such a thing! But let’s be honest: Sin can appeal to the flesh, and it can appear pleasurable. It can give fleeting fleshly satisfaction. The key qualifying phrase, however, is “for a season.” Sins’ pleasures are short-lived. The truth is we usually see their demise in the life. Drink and drugs promise escape, release, pleasure. But it can end with hangovers, addiction, and destruction. Adultery and promiscuity promise titillation, excitement, experience. It ends with broken homes, shame, tears, and disease.
I recently read someone who compared the attainment of worldly pleasures to being like goods purchased with counterfeit money. You can use fake money to buy real items but when they discover your money is counterfeit all those things are taken away and you are placed in jail. Faith in Christ gives real capital to purchase real satisfaction that can never be taken away.
Second, in v. 26 it says Moses was “esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.”
That is a logically jarring statement. The reproach of Christ (the snubs, insults, or indignities one receives from his association with or loyalty to Christ) are described as riches. What is more, these riches are greater than the treasures of the world! Compare the teaching of Jesus himself:
Matthew 6: 19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
The key to Moses’ conversion and his separation comes in v. 26b: “for he had respect unto the recompense of reward.” Another way of saying this: He knew that he was not living just for this life. He knew that one day God will judge the living and the dead. He knew that each man will one day have to give an account of his life and deeds before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Wednesday, July 06, 2016
Image: A fifth century pyxsis with scenes from John's Gospel, including the woman caught in adultery.
Update (7.7.16): A transcript of WM 53 is now posted in pdf form to sermonaudio.com (look here).
I posted to sermon audio today WM # 53 Interview: James Snapp's Book on the PA (John 7:53--8:11). This episode features my phone interview with James Snapp on the PA. Sound quality is choppy at times. Thanks for your patience in listening.
Snapp's book recently got a shout out on the Evangelical Text Criticism blog (see here), where he makes regular comments.
Snapp is pastor of Curtisville Christian Church in Elwood, Indiana. Though we have some obviously significant theological and ecclesiological differences, we do share some common interests in defending traditional NT texts like the ending of Mark and the PA. As Snapp describes it, text criticism is a work-related hobby that has turned into an obsession for him. He regularly posts articles on text criticism on his blog, "The Text of the Gospels," and elsewhere.
In this episode we discuss Snapp's new e-book: A Fresh Analysis of John 7:53-8:11: With a Tour of the External Evidence.
We discuss, in particular, sections of his book related to the external evidence for the PA, the internal evidence for the PA, and the notion of the PA as a "floating tradition."
Though Snapp holds to what he calls "Equitable Eclecticism," which leads him essentially to a Byzantine Text position as the best "reconstructed" text, he has common ground with confessional text advocates in defending the authenticity of passages like the PA. As Snapp put it at the end of the episode, he's rather set sail on a ship with a few barnacles (the TR, in his view) than one filled with holes (the modern critical text).
Friday, July 01, 2016
Note: Devotion taken from conclusion to last Sunday morning’s sermon on Hebrews 11:11-22.
Hebrews was originally written to encourage Jewish Christians not to abandon Christ. the author intones: If they have truly known saving faith they will be granted enduring faith. Their perseverance in the faith, in the end, does not depend upon their faithfulness but upon the Lord’s faithfulness to them.
In the second part of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress there is a scene in which the pilgrims are passing through the Valley of Humiliation, described as “a valley that nobody walks in, but those that love a pilgrim’s life.” Honest and the guide Great-Heart begin discussing a previous pilgrim named Mr. Fearing. Honest says he knew him well, affirming he had “the root of the matter” but “he was one of the most troublesome pilgrims that ever I met with in all my days.” Great-Heart says he knew of Mr. Fearing’s weaknesses, but, he adds, “I could very well bear it, for men of my calling are oftentimes entrusted with the conduct of such as he was.”
Great-Heart then describes his guidance of Mr. Fearing on his pilgrimage to the Celestial City. He notes, “Why he was always afraid that he should come up short of whither he had desire to go,” adding, he had “a slough of despond in his mind, a slough that he carried everywhere with him.”
Great-Heart then tells how Mr. Fearing eventually reached the final river which each pilgrim must pass over to reach the Celestial City. Upon arrival, Great-Heart says he noticed what was “very remarkable: the water of that river was lower at this time than ever I saw it in all my life.” So even Mr. Fearing was able to pass over “not much above wet-shod” and enter the city.
J. Gresham Machen ends his book What is Faith? with reference to Bunyan’s Mr. Fearing, adding these final words:
Such is the blessed end of the man of little faith. Weak faith will not remove mountains, but there is one thing that it will do: it will bring a sinner to peace with God. Our salvation does not depend upon the strength of our faith; saving faith is a channel not a force. If you are really committed to Christ, then despite your subsequent doubts and fears you are His for ever (p. 251).
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle