Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Muratorian Canon (AD second century)

Here are some more notes from study of the canon of the NT:

The Muratorian Canon is perhaps the oldest extant record of an attempt to list the canonical books of the NT (find an English translation and the Latin text here).  The document gets its name from the Italian scholar L. A. Muratori who discovered the work in the library in Milan, Italy in the early eighteenth century.  The document is written in ungrammatical Latin and is fragmentary.  It begins with a description of Luke and John as the third and fourth Gospels, so we can assume the original also discussed Matthew and Mark.  The work is usually date to the second half of the second century and its provenance is thought to be Rome.  Here is a summary of the data in the fragment:
Accepted books
Questionable but accepted books
Not accepted but edifying books
Rejected and Heretical books
Apocalypse of Peter
Paul’s Epistle to the Laodiceans [Marcionite forgery]
2-3 John
Shepherd of Hermas
Paul’s Epistle to the Alexandrians [Marcionite forgery]

Writings of Arsinous
Apocalypse of John (Revelation)

Writings of Valentinus

Writings of Militiades
1-2 Corinthians

Marcionite Psalms

Writings of Basilides of the Cataphyrigians



1-2 Thessalonians




1-2 Timothy


1.  The Muratorian Canon shows there was generally an early recognition of most of the books we now consider part of the canonical New Testament.

2.  It affirms consensus on a fourfold Gospel:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

3.  It affirms the Pauline epistles but offers an alternative ordering of the books.

4.  It assumes Paul’s letters were written to seven churches (Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, Galatia, Thessalonika, Rome), following the pattern of John’s letters to seven churches in Revelation chapters 2-3.

5.  It distinguishes Paul’s letters to churches from the letters to individuals.

6.  It affirms the authenticity of the Pastoral epistles (1-2 Timothy, Titus).

7.  It omits Hebrews, James, and 1-2 Peter altogether.  Note:  B. Ehrman in Lost Scriptures (Oxford, 2003) also lists 3 John as excluded in the canon (p. 331).

8.  It includes the book of Wisdom as likely acceptable.

9.  It makes a distinction between canonical books and books that are edifying and orthodox but not apostolic (e.g., The Shepherd of Hermes).

10.  It rejects heretical books and recognizes some of these works (Pseudo-Pauline epistles) as forgeries.  This attention to authenticity of authorship argues against any notion that early Christians would have accepted pseudonymous works.  Thus, it argues in favor of the fact that the early Christians accepted the authenticity of the purported authorship of the accepted NT books.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Book Note: Smith & Bennett's "How the Bible Was Built"

Charles Merrill Smith & James W. Bennett, How the Bible Was Built (Eerdmans, 2005):  97 pp.

I’m always on the outlook for works that seek to explain how the Bible came to be in a simple and approachable manner.  I saw this little work referenced somewhere so I ordered a very cheap used copy on Amazon.  It’s less than a hundred pages so it was a quick read.  A draft of the book was originally written by Smith, a United Methodist bishop. The unpolished manuscript was left at his death and then was edited and put in its final form nearly twenty years later by his friend Bennett.

The book uses the analogy of building to describe the formation of the Bible.  The Hebrew Bible was the “First Wing,” and the New Testament the “New Wing,” with the apocrypha a “Passageway” connecting the two.  Though written by a Methodist bishop, the book makes the distinctly non-Protestant assertion that the apostles accepted the apocrypha as Scripture (p. 26)!  This is one of many signs of danger in the book.

Though the book makes the initial claim that it will stick to the basic facts about the Bible’s formation in such a way that persons of all theological persuasions will be able to agree with its content, a quick read makes clear that this isn’t exactly the case.  The primary author (Bennett) writes as we might expect a United Methodist bishop to write.  That is, his view of the Bible is that of a liberal mainline Protestant who has wholly accepted the “assured results” of modern historical-critical scholarship.  So, he assumes Markan priority and the existence of Q, rejects Pauline authorship of the Pastoral epistles, and presents the formation of the canon as essentially a human process.  One encouraging note is his very brief reference to the role of Gutenberg in the functional closing of the canon (pp. 68-69).

In the end, I can’t recommend this book.  If you want a brief but engaging book on the how the Bible was “built,” the best work IMHO is still W. Harold Reid’s How God Gave Us the Bible (Welch, 1982).  Get that one and leave this one alone.


Monday, November 28, 2016

"Triumphant Journey" Poster (and Puzzle)

Image:  My sons holding up the "Triumphant Journey" poster.

Image:  A closeup of one scene.

I got a great unexpected gift in the mail today from friends in Florida.  It is a sturdy,  over-sized poster with plotted scenes from John Bunyan's classic Pilgrim's Progress created by artist Phyllis F. Sweeney and titled Triumphant Journey.  The poster provides a great visual over-view of the narrative of Pilgrim's Progress from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.

I've long appreciated the children's work Dangerous Journey which does something similar in a juvenile book format.  After reading this to my children several times in family devotions, it helped me better to follow the plot when re-reading Bunyan's original.  The poster also grabbed the interest of my children and I sense it will serve the same purpose, and I like the poster title (with the emphasis on "triumph" rather than "danger") even better.  It will be framed and hung on the wall of my study.

You can order the poster or the same scene in a puzzle format by visiting  It would make a memorable gift for someone who is a fan of Bunyan's great allegory.  Thanks Ireland family!


Update (11.29.16):  The puzzle came in the mail today, so my first thanks was premature and incomplete.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Word Magazine # 64: Jeff Purswell on the Ending of Mark: Merely "ancient faithful commentary"?

I just recorded and posted WM 64 (listen here).  It offers a review of a July 15, 2016 sermon titled “The Final Chapter” from Jeff Purswell at the Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, Kentucky on the ending of Mark.  In addition to being an elder at this church, Purswell is also Dean of the Sovereign Grace Pastors’ College.

I review the section of the sermon (from c. 7:00-19:00 minute mark) in which Purswell addresses the text of the ending of Mark.  The sermon demonstrates how many evangelical and otherwise conservative evangelicals who have embraced the modern critical text are now openly rejecting the ending of Mark and teaching their congregations that the Longer Ending (LE) of Mark 16:9-20 is not part of inspired Scripture.

He defines text criticism as “the science of comparing all known copies of a document to discover what the original said.”  I point out that this “reconstructionist” definition is one that modern academic text criticism has largely abandoned.

When it comes to “external evidence” Purswell asserts that the “oldest and best” manuscripts do not support the LE.  He cites no manuscripts and does not mention that only two extant Greek manuscripts actually end Mark at 16:8 (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus).

He notes several Church Fathers typically cited in favor of omitting the LE (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyprian, Eusebius, and Jerome).  After noting problems with these (arguments from silence, no pre-300 citations, Jerome includes the LE in his Vulgate), I point out that the biggest problem here is that he fails to list the church fathers who do support the LE, including Justin Martyr and Irenaeus.

Purswell also uses the “bandwagon” argument.  You should reject the LE, he says, because “virtually no Biblical scholars think it is original.”  This overlooks the more recent scholarly defenses of the LE by Dean John Burgon, William Farmer, Maurice Robinson, James Snapp, and Nicholas P. Lunn.

Purswell asserts it is “a virtually assured explanation” that the LE was written and added by a well-meaning but misguided scribe.  As I point out this explanation is hardly “assured” but based entirely on unsubstantiated speculation.

Turning to internal evidence, Purswell calls the LE a “patchwork” with non-Markan style.

In the end he calls the LE merely uninspired, “ancient faithful commentary.”

As I point out this creates a great dilemma for those who embrace this position.  If they hold that Mark 16:9-20 is not part of Scripture should they not contend that it be removed from their printed Bibles? Why do they not do this?  My guess is that they are not so bold to do this, because they fear the backlash of God’s people who intuitively hear in Mark 16:9-20 the voice of their Shepherd.

At the close of this discussion, Purswell makes a somewhat standard evangelical apologetic argument regarding the large number of NT manuscripts (c. 5,700).  He contrasts this with the relatively fewer and later manuscripts of works by Josephus and Tacitus.  I point out that this argument is rather misleading.  Most of the NT manuscripts cited are fragmentary and late.  In fact, we have very few complete copies of the NT. I cite Robert F. Hull, Jr. in The Story of the NT Text (SBL, 2010):  “In fact, only fifty-three manuscripts contain the complete NT, and only one of these is dated as early as the fourth century” (p. 24).  The irony is that Purswell appeals to the number of extant Greek witnesses to the NT but then rejects the fact that the vast majority of them, including many of the oldest, support the LE.

In the end the rejection of the LE creates a major theological problem for those evangelicals who have embraced the modern critical text.  Would a canonical Gospel end without any resurrection appearances?


Friday, November 25, 2016

The Vision (11.25.16): God's Perfect Timing

Video: Pete Seeger and Judy Collins sing "Turn, Turn, Turn."

Note:  Devotion taken from last Sunday morning's sermon on Ecclesiastes 3:1-11.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is one of the best known passage in the entire book.

Many children of the sixties know the words not from reading their Bibles but from The Byrds song, “Turn, Turn, Turn” which drew its lyrics nearly verbatim from Solomon:  “To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”  It hit Number One on the Billboard charts in November 1965.  The song was actually written in the 1950s by folk singer Peter Seeger.

I often tell my college students, that every religion has a view of time.  The Jews and Christians, based on the special revelation of Scripture,  saw time as linear.  It has a beginning and a purposeful ending.  The pagans, on the other hand, without that guidance, saw time as cyclical, the same things repeated over and over without purpose.  This is how the idea of reincarnation developed.  With the pagan view of time came a sense of futility and lack of control over time, so that man was seen as the victim of time as a capricious master.  Men saw themselves as subject to the great wheel of fortune.  Round and round she goes, where she stops nobody knows.  One man’s house gets hit by lightening and burns to the ground while his neighbor’s house stands intact.  One child is stillborn, another is born and lives to 100. It’s all a matter of chance, or fate, or karma.

Solomon in our passage puts forward his own views of time from the perspective of godly wisdom and he teaches that time is not a master but it is a servant.  Time is on God’s leash.  He controls it and he uses it to fulfill his purposes for the world and for every person and creature within it.

God is sovereign over time.  As Isaiah prophesied, the Lord declares “the end from the beginning,” saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10).  Every day ordained for man was written in God’s book before one of them ever came to be (see Psalm 139:16 NKJV).  Proverbs 16:9 teaches: “A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.”  And Jesus himself taught that not even a sparrow can fall to the ground unless it be God’s will (see Matt 10:29-31).

Christians, therefore, do not believe in luck or fortune. Those are pagan terms.  There are no accidents or mistakes.  We believe in providence.  God provides for all his creation, and especially for the redeemed, what gives him the most glory and does them the most good.  The opening paragraph of chapter five “Of Divine Providence” in the 1689 Baptist confession:

God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will; to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy.

That is what is being affirmed in Ecclesiastes 3.  Solomon not only declares that man’s life is meaningful but also that man is not the victim of time as a series of random and purposeless events.  John Currid observes:  “the Preacher argues against those who believe that time is a tyrant that is totally out of control” relentlessly pushing us toward our deaths while we are but “helpless pawns in a cosmic game!” (p. 49).  No, Solomon says, for every time there is a purpose under heaven!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Eusebius and NT Canon

Recent sermons on chapter one of the 1689 confession (see here and here) have gotten me thinking about canon issues.

One of the most intriguing and important early lists of the New Testament books and early Christian writings is that found in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (Book III, chapter xxv).  Eusebius (c. 260-340) was born in Palestine.  He became bishop of Caesarea in 314 and attended the Council of Nicea in 325.  His Ecclesiastical History in ten books was published in 324-325.

Here is his list:

“recognized” books
“disputed” books
spurious books
“the holy tetrad of the Gospels”
Acts of Paul
Acts of the Apostles
The Shepherd [of Hermes]
Epistles of Paul
2 Peter
The Apocalypse of Peter
1 John
2 John
Epistle of Barnabas
1 Peter
3 John
The Teachings of the Apostles [Didache]
Revelation (though disputed by some)

The Gospel of the Hebrews

In addition he mentions books “put forward by heretics in the name of the apostles” but rejected by the orthodox, including Gospels of Peter, Thomas, Matthias, and others and Acts of Andrew, John, and others.


1.  Early Christians were making distinctions among the early Christian writings.

2.  The 27 book NT canon was generally recognized, though Revelation, James, Jude, 2 Peter, and 2-3 John were disputed in some circles.

3.  We also see the outline of what will be the standard ordering of the NT books:  Gospels, Acts, Paul’s epistles, general epistles, Revelation.

4.  A distinction was made between the NT books and others.

5.  A distinction was also made between works that might be edifying but which were not genuine [the nothoi] and heretical books.

6.  The four Gospels were a distinct collection.

7.  The letters of Paul were a distinct collection. They likely included Hebrews as Pauline.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book Note: D. A. Carson's "Jesus The Son of God"

D. A. Carson, Jesus The Son Of God:  A Christological title often overlooked, sometimes misunderstood, and currently disputed (Crossway/Inter-Varsity Press, 2012):  117 pp.

This book is based on three lectures delivered by Carson at several Reformed schools.  It is a brief study of the title “Son of God” in the New Testament as attributed to Jesus of Nazareth.  It also addresses contemporary issues related to the rendering of this term in translations of the Bible aimed at a Muslim audience.

The book consists of three chapters:

Chapter one explores “Son of God” as a Christological title (pp. 13-42).   It begins by surveying son and sonship language in the Bible including various more mundane, non-Christological references, like “sons of oil” in Zechariah 4:14 to refer to “anointed ones.”  It also surveys places where “son of God” is used as a term to refer to angels or human beings other than Jesus.  Finally, it surveys “Son of God” as a title for Jesus.

Chapter two provides a more extended exegetical study of two key passages:  Hebrews 1 and John 5:16-30 (pp. 43-72).  With regard to Hebrews 1, Carson sees the Son of God themes as tying together “complementary christologies” (e.g., Davidic and priestly) “into one organic whole” (p. 62). With regard to John 5:16-30, Carson notes that the Son of God language does not imply “ditheism” or that Jesus as Son of God constitutes “a second God-center” (pp. 65-66).

Chapter three examines the Son of God title in Christian and Muslim contexts (pp.  73-109):

He first asks how study of the Son of God title should impact the way Christians think about Jesus.  Of interest here is Carson’s assertion that systematic theologians should give more attention to Biblical exegesis of the Son of God title passages, particularly with regard to their understanding and articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity (pp. 76-80) and the doctrine of “the eternal generation of the Son” (pp. 80-86).  He adds that a better grasp of this title will also edify the church in it evangelism and worship (pp. 85-86).

Second, he discusses the implications of this study on current debates of Bible translation in the Muslim context. Some translators have suggested that Biblical terms like “Son of God” might be better rendered simply as “Messiah” or “Father” as “Guardian” in order to avoid confusion or offense to Muslim readers who might who might wrongly confuse the title with the idea of natural generation (i.e., It might wrongly lead readers to believe that Christians hold Jesus to be the physical offspring of God the Father).  Connected to this question is also the contemporary missiological debate as to whether there can be Christian converts in the Muslim context who remain within the mosque.  Carson concludes that the original Biblical terms and titles, like Son of God, should not be discarded for supposedly pragmatic reasons.  He also suggests that some of these problems have arisen because those who work in Bible translation sometimes do not have adequate training in Biblical exegesis and systematic theology.

Overall thoughts:

Carson writes cleanly and clearly, yet I find his prose (in this and other works) to be generally vanilla.  I especially appreciate and agree with his final comments rejecting “dynamic” approaches to translating the Biblical title “Son of God” in the name of missiological relevance.  I profited from his survey of the sonship language in the Bible, but I’m not sure I got from this book what I was looking for:  A solid and satisfying Biblical and theological exposition and interpretation of the title Son of God.  Carson chides systematicians for neglecting exegesis, but they might well shoot back that exegesis without a clear confessional framework can also fall short.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Book Note: Wendell Berry's "Clearing"

Wendell Berry, Clearing (Harcourt Brave Jovanovitch, 1977):  52 pp.

I picked up a thin paperback collection of poems by Wendell Berry titled Clearing at the Gordon Avenue Library fall book sale last week for fifty cents.

The work consists of seven non-rhyming poems focused on the author’s Kentucky farm. Berry is well known for his critique of disconnected urban and modern complexity and his praise of rural simplicity.

Reading his poems makes you want to sell your house, buy some land, and start homesteading.  Then, you remember how tired you’d probably be.  How little time you’d have for the modern pastimes and conveniences you actually enjoy, like picking up a cup of coffee, surfing the internet, or writing a post for your blog.  And how you’d probably starve yourself and your family to death, because you don’t really know how to farm. I also recall Joel Salatin’s response when asked about Berry.  He essentially said he liked Berry but whereas Berry made a living writing and farmed on the side, he made his living farming and only wrote on the side.

It also made me think of the dairy farm off Byrd Rd. in Morganton, North Carolina where my grandparents had their place and where my father and his brothers and sisters lived and worked.  They had their clearing, eked a simple life out of it, but hardly would have thought to have written poems about it.

Best new word learned from Clearing:  “Reverdure” the title of the final poem.  The word means “to cover again with verdure [greenness, fresh vegetation].”

Best section of a poem:  stanza 8 in “Reverdure”:

            One thing work gives
            is the joy of not working,
            a minute here or there
            when I stand and only breathe,
            receiving the good of the air.
            It comes back.  Good work done
            comes back into the mind,
            a free breathe drawn.

Clearing makes you want to work on the farm.  Or, just sit on you porch and look at the farm across the road and enjoy their labor.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Word Magazine # 63: Sermon Review: Ending of Mark.Part Four: Conclusion (Does Mark end at 16:8?)

I have recorded and posted WM # 63, the last in a four part series reviewing the 2012 sermon by Pastor Carey Hardy on the ending of Mark (see WM #60, WM # 61, and WM # 62).  This episode covers the concluding arguments in Pastor Hardy’s sermon, including his contention that Mark was intended to end at 16:8.

I close with four objections to the contemporary argument that Mark was intended to end at Mark 16:8 [“And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.”]:

First, this new consensus is relatively recent or novel.

It has only become the dominant position  of modern critical text advocates since the 1980s.  Prior to this time those who embraced the modern critical text suggested that the original ending had been lost or suppressed or that the author had died before completing the Gospel.

There is no historic tradition of such an interpretation.  Lunn:  “If Mark’s Gospel did originally close with 16:8 it is remarkable that no biblical scholar ventured an interpretation of this verse as the Gospel’s conclusion until relatively recent times” (The Original Ending of Mark, p. 14).

Second, there is a major grammatical problem with the suggestion that Mark fittingly ends at 16:8.

If Mark ends at 16:8 then the final word of the Gospel is the post-positive conjunction gar “for.”  No other Greek work can be located that ends with this particle. 

That Mark ends in this way, Lunn says, “is an extremely unlikely possibility” (p. 14).

Third, If Mark ends at 16:8 there is no narrative fulfillment of the resurrection predictions.

Compare the three passion predictions (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34).  See also the Galilee predictions (Mark 14:28; 16:7).  With no resurrection appearances the narrative is incomplete.

Fourth, most importantly, if Mark ends at 16:8 it offers a truncted presentation of the Christian gospel by excluding the resurrection appearances.

If Mark does not have resurrection appearance then it would be the only one of the four canonical Gospels to do so [cf. Matthew 28; Luke 24; John 20-21].

This would be in contradiction to the early Christian proclamation of the gospel.  Compare 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 with its stress on four key historical facts:  Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, AND his resurrection appearances.  Would we really have an orthodox, canonical Gospel which omits this key element?