Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Reading Highlights

Time for end of year reading highlights.  This year I discovered LibriVox so I also listened to quite a few audio books, which I’ve also included.

Here is a list of ten enjoyable 2016 reads, in no particular order:

1.    B. S. Poh, A Garden Enclosed:  A historical study of the form of church government practiced by the Particular Baptists in the 17th and 18th centuries (Good News Enterprise, 2013): 330 pp.

I picked up a copy of this book while in Malaysia in 2015.  It is a scholarly study of early Particular Baptist ecclesiology that argues for the Independency model.  I wrote a review for the RBT and have an extended article version of the review coming out in the Puritan Reformed Journal (January, 2017).

2.      Thomas Boston, Human Nature in Its Fourfold State (1720; Banner of Truth, 1964, 2002):  506 pp.

I finished up reading this classic Scottish work of devotion and doctrine early in the year. One of the fruits of reading and study was an abridgement of a portion of the work as a tract on assurance, Am I Really A Christian?

3.       T H. L. Parker, John Calvin: A Biography (Westminster Press, 1975): 190 pp.

I found Parker’s work on Calvin to be very stimulating.  Parker is one of the rare scholars who has studied Calvin as a text critic. Reading this work also led me to read portions of his books on Calvin’s NT commentaries and on Calvin as a preacher.  These were all helpful in doing the paper at Houston Baptist University in February 2016 on “John Calvin and Text Criticism.”  An article version of this paper will appear in Puritan Reformed Journal (July, 2017).

4.     David Laird Dungan, A History of the Synoptic Problem:  The Canon, the Text, the Composition, and the Interpretation of the Gospels (Doubleday, 1999): 526 pp.

Finally got around to reading this work this year.  Dungan is an advocate for Matthean priority.  Of note here is how he connects the rise of the theory of Markan priority with the corresponding rise of modern text and canon criticism.  This has become a new area of interest for me.

5.     D. W. Robertson, trans., St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine (Liberal Arts Press, 1958): 169 pp.

This is Augustine’s classic handbook on Biblical interpretation and instruction to Christian teachers.  Still helpful generations later.

6.      Joseph Epstein, Essays in Biography (Axios Press, 2012): 603 pp.; and A Literary Education and Other Essays (Axios Press, 2014): 537 pp.

Epstein is my favorite essayists.  If you get started reading his essays, they are hard to put down.  Once you finish one, you want to read the next.  Both learned and accessible.  Dry, hilarious, skewering political correctness.  I got into reading a lot of essays this year (see later items in the list).  I am learning how to be a better reader, writer, and clearer communicator by reading Epstein.

7.       George Orwell, A Collection of Essays (Harvest, 1981): 316 pp.

In these essays, Orwell discusses everything from British imperialism to literary criticism (Dickens, Kipling, etc.) to writing.  What can a Christian learn from reading a secular socialist?  See my blog post.  I was inspired to re-read Animal Farm and have 1984 on my hope-to-re-read list for 2017.

8.     Richard Chase, Ed., The Jack Tales:  Folk Tales from the Southern Appalachians Collected and Retold by Richard Chase (Houghton Mifflin, 1943): 202 pp.

I grew up hearing “Jack Tales” as bedtime stories on visits with my grandmother in Western North Carolina.  We read this book aloud after supper and family devotions this year, and my younger boys were enthralled.

9.     Nicholas P. Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark:  a New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (Pickwick Publications, 2014): 378 pp.

I made a lot of references to this work in my 2016 Word Magazine podcasts (maybe to the point of overkill?).  This scholarly work offers the best and most recent defense of the traditional ending of Mark.  It should be read by any pastor who is planning to preach through the second Gospel before he handles the ending.

10.  Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876); The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).

I read or listened to a lot more fiction than usual this year.  Re-connecting to my inner English major.  I listened to Twain’s classic works via LibriVox, after reading them years ago.  My adult ear picked up on Twain’s antipathy not only towards Christianity, in general, but against Calvinism, in particular.  Twain’s depiction of the “King” and the “Duke” duping the naive frontier revival crowd in Huckleberry Finn is particularly vicious.  Also struck by the novels’ moral ambiguity.  Tom is more of a jerk than a loveable scamp.  I gained more admiration, however, for the moral development of Huck.  Also intrigued by the question, still debated, of Twain’s views on race and slavery.

More 2016 reading highlights and honorable mentions:

Biblical Studies:

F. F. Bruce, Israel and the Nations: The History of Israel from the Exodus to the Fall of the Second Temple, Revised Ed. (Intervarsity Press, 1997): 258 pp.; Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon: It’s Making and Meaning (Fortress Press, 1985): 95 pp.; J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Eerdmans, 1964): 160 pp.; James Barr, Fundamentalism (Westminster Press, 1977, 1978): 379 pp.; Gordon H. Clark, God’s Hammer:  The Bible and Its Critics (Trinity Foundation, 1982): 225 pp.; Peter Barnes, Both Sides Now: Ecclesiastes and the Human Condition (Banner of Truth, 2004): 104 pp.; Charles Merril Smith & James W. Bennet, How the Bible Was Built (Eerdmans, 2005): 97 pp.; James Orr, Revelation and Inspiration (Scribner’s, 1910): 224 pp.; James F. Walvoord, Ed., Inspiration and Interpretation (Eerdmans, 1957): 280 pp.

Church History, Theology, Pastoral:

Poh Boon Sing, Independency:  The Biblical Form of Church Government (Good News Enterprise, 1997): 61 pp.; Joel R. Beeke, How Should Men Lead Their Families? (Reformation Heritage, 2014): 29 pp.; Peter Garnsey, Ideas of Slavery from Aristotle to Augustine (Cambridge, 1996): 269 pp.; J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith? (Eerdmans, 1925, 1962): 263 pp.; John D. Currid, Calvin and the Biblical Languages (Christian Focus, 2006): 106 pp.; T. S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture (1940; Harvest, 1968): 77 pp.; Etienne Gilson, God and Philosophy (Yale, 1941, 1955): 147 pp.; Will D. Campbell, Soul Among Lions: Musings of a Bootleg Preacher (Westminster/John Know Press, 1999): 63 pp.; D. A. Carson, Jesus the Son of God: A Christological title often overlooked, sometimes misunderstood, and currently disputed (Intervarsity Press, 2012): 117 pp.


David Horowitz, Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey (Free Press, 1997): 468 pp.; Gerald and Loretta Houseman, A Mind With Wings: The Story of Henry David Thoreau (Trumpeter Books, 2006): 148 pp.; Charles Templeton, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith (McClelland & Stewart, 1996): 233 pp.

Fiction and Poetry:

Douglas Wilson, Persuasions: A Dream of Reason Meeting Unbelief (Canon Press, 1989): 95 pp.; Will Willimon, Incorporation (Cascade Books, 2012): 255 pp.; Garrison Keilor, Ed., Good Poems (Viking, 2002): 476 pp.; Robert Bly, Selected Poems (Harper & Row, 1986): 213 pp.; Joanna Trollope, Next of Kin (Black Swan, 1996): 315 pp.; Evelyn Waugh, Black Mischief (1932; Little, Brown, and Co., 1977): 312 pp.; Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (Heinemann ed., 1958): 148 pp.; Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness (1902; Penguin reprint, 1994): 111 pp.; George Eliot, Silas Marner (1881): via LibriVox; Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852): via LibriVox; Wendell Berry, Clearing (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974, 1975, 1977): 52 pp.; Mary Shelly, Frankenstein (1818): via LibriVox.

History, Politics, Philosophy, Essays, etc.:

Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (Harper One, 2009): 276 pp.; James P. Gills and Ronald Nash, Government is Too Big and Its Costing You (St. Luke’s, 1996): 59 pp.; Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative (1960; Regnery reprint, 1990); 117 pp.; Naci Keskin, Ephesus (Keskin, 1997): 64 pp.; Richard Osborne, Philosophy for Beginners (Writers and Readers, 1992); 184 pp.; G. A. Cohen, Why Not Socialism? (Princeton, 2009): 83 pp.; Ancius Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, trans. H. R. James (1897): via LibriVox; Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, trans. George Long (1862): via LibriVox; Christopher Hitchens, Mortality (Twelve, 2012): 128 pp.; Christopher Hitchens, And Yet…Essays (Simon and Schuster, 2015): 339 pp.

For reading reviews from past years, look here:


R. L. Dabney on free justification and good works

R. L. Dabney’s article “The Moral Effects of Free Justification” appeared in The Southern Presbyterian Review (April, 1873) (reprinted in Dabney’s Discussions, Vol. I, pp. 73-106).  In the article Dabney discusses how the doctrine of free justification does not exclude the expectation of good works:

To the inconsiderate there may seem to be a contrariety; but the easy and obvious solution is the truth that, while our works are naught as a ground of merit for our justification, they are all-important as evidences that we are justified. The man that hath clean hands and a pure heart is the one who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord. Obedience characterizes one as a friend of Christ. The fear of God and works of righteousness distinguish the man who is accepted of him. The faith which evinces its living power by no works has now power to justify. The justified person is the one that doeth just works. All this is true. But this is far short of saying that the merit of clean hands and pure heart is what entitled the first-mentioned to his place in the hill of the Lord, that a sinner’s obedience deserved the bestowal of Christ’s friendship, that the fear of God and righteous works purchased Cornelius’ acceptance with him. In a word, the personal value of the believer’s good works to him in the transaction of his justification is not their purchasing, but their indicative, power (p. 89).


Friday, December 30, 2016

The Vision (12.30.16): The Highest Regardeth

Image:  Scene from North Garden, Virginia

Note:  Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Ecclesiastes 5:8.

If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they (Ecclesiastes 5:8).

If you look at Ecclesiastes 5:8 in the King James Version, you will notice that this verse is set off by a distinct paragraph mark (a pilcrow).  The learned translators set v. 8 apart as a distinct thought.  BTW, these pilcrow notations (paragraph markers) appear throughout the text of the KJV, beginning in Genesis, but then they inexplicably end at Acts 20:36!

So, Ecclesiastes 5:8 is meant to be taken as a distinct thought.  With it we find three thoughts:

First:  The Preacher declares that the ordinary conditions of a sin-sick world should not take anyone by surprise:
If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter:
Christians are realists regarding the state of the fallen world. Men are sinners and if left to their sinful ways they will commit sin. Why are we surprised when sin happens? Why are we surprised at the sin in our own hearts and lives?  “Marvel not at the matter.”
Second:  The Preacher notes that God has graciously provided authorities to restrain evil:

for he that is higher than the highest regardeth

When you first read this you might think Solomon is speaking about God.  No.  He is speaking about the rulers.  He writes this as a king, as one who had to make difficult decisions in ruling and administration.  The king is he is who is highest among the highest of men.  He has been set in his position to regard injustice and to restrain evil (cf. Romans 13:1-7).

Third:  Solomon prophesies that here is a God who is higher than the highest human authorities and he will one day execute justice and save his people:

            and there be higher than they.

Solomon acknowledges that there is one who is higher than he.  Consider what David the greatest king of Israel wrote:

Psalm 61:2 From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

Paul told earthly masters to remember that they had a Master in heaven (Ephesians 6:9).  Here Solomon says, “Kings, remember you have a King.”

The implication is that this King in the heavens regards this sin-sick world.  In some ways, we might see this verse as a prophetic prediction of the highest King’s plan to intervene and redeem this fallen world.  How would he do that?

I call three witnesses before the court to declare how the Highest has regarded this fallen world:  Paul, Luke, and John.

From Paul:

Galatians 4:4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, 5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

From Luke:

Luke 2:10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

From John:

John 3:16 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.

If the highest among mere men, mere human kings, will regard the condition of their people and intervene and act on their behalf, to save them from death and destruction, will not the King of Kings look upon the state of man in sin and act to save them?

The good news is that he has done this in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ignatius of Antioch on early Christian "charters" or "archives" [archeia]

Image:  Artist's depiction of the martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch.

Ignatius of Antioch was one of the leading early Church Fathers.  He died as a martyr in Rome in 108 AD.  While being transported to Rome as a prisoner he wrote a series of letters to Christian communities.  In one of these, the letter to the Philadelphians (VIII, 2), Ignatius makes an interesting comment that might be related to the transmission and preservation of Scripture.  In writing against schism, Ignatius exhorts:

But I beseech you to do nothing in factiousness, but after the teaching of Christ.  For I heard some men saying, “if I find it not in the charters [archeiois] of the Gospel I do not believe,” and when I said to them that it is in the Scripture, they answered me, “that is exactly the question.”  But to me the charters [archeia] are Jesus Christ, the inviolable charter [archeia] is his cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is through him;---in these I desire to be justified by your prayers (from Kirsopp Lake, trans., Apostolic Fathers I, Loeb Classical Library).

Ignatius seems to be opposing some who say they will not believe a matter unless it can be shown to be in the “charters of the Gospel.”

The question is what is meant by “the charters” [archeia, neuter plural of archeion].

In his notes, Lake says, “it probably means the Old Testament” (p. 247, n. 1).

Harry Y. Gamble discusses the passage in Books and Readers in the Early Church (Yale, 1995):  pp. 152-153.  He notes that archeion originally referred to “a governmental house” or “magistrate’s office" (p. 153).

He adds:

Most commentators take the word to mean “the original records” and to refer to Jewish Scriptures regarded as “archival records” or “charter documents” of the church.  This is surely correct but does not necessarily exhaust the sense of this unique designation of Jewish Scripture, for the word alludes to the place where such writings were deposited and available.  Since its use by Ignatius’ opponents has no clear ulterior motivation, all the more may it imply the existence of an archive or library of the Antiochene church where the Jewish scriptures, among other documents, were kept (p. 153).

What is interesting here is the notion that early Christian churches, like that at Antioch, would have had archives (archeia) where Scripture and other writing might have been stored for comparison and consultation.  If so, the early Christians would be following the tradition of the Jews who kept authoritative copies of the Hebrew Bible and other documents in the temple and in important synagogues.
Lake and Gamble mention the “charters” here as the OT. They probably do not suggest it could also be authoritative manuscripts of the NT (the four Gospels, Paul’s letters, Acts and the catholic epistles, Revelation), since they likely posit a dating for their authoritative use as post 108 AD.  If, however, we take the archeia as referring to authoritative manuscripts of the NT, perhaps even autographa, this means the early Christians had reliable standards with which to compare copies made of various NT books.  This would argue against early transmission being as haphazard as is sometimes suggested.

BTW, Ignatius’ comments to those who appeal to these “charters” might seem on the surface to be a bit like contemporary Protestant liberals, when he says “the charters are Jesus Christ,” as if the important thing to him is not the written record but his understanding and experience of Christ.  On, the other hand, he does proceed to stress that “the inviolable charter is his death, cross, and resurrection, and the faith which is through him,” an emphasis clearly affirmed in the canonical NT as the heart of understanding Jesus, contra, e.g., gnostics.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

James Orr: Inerrancy as "a most suicidal position"?

I had an earlier post on James Orr’s Revelation and Inspiration (Scribner’s, 1910), reflecting on seeming inconsistencies in his views (e. g., rejecting higher criticism but embracing evolution). At the close of the same book the Scottish theologian who contributed to The Fundamentals offers a surprising critique of the Hodges/Warfield construal of inerrancy. He writes:

It is urged, e.g., that unless we can demonstrate what is called ‘inerrancy’ of the Biblical record, down even to the minutest details, the whole edifice of belief in revealed religion falls to the ground. This, on the face of it, is a most suicidal position for any defender of revelation to take up (p. 198).

So, Orr does not think it necessary to affirm inerrancy in order to uphold the authority of the Bible. Though this sounds like the same view disastrously adopted in liberal Protestantism, perhaps Orr was intuiting some of the flaws in the defense of the Bible based in the hypothetical reconstruction of inerrant, non-extant autographs.

Along these lines, he has some interesting points to make with regard to the doctrine of preservation, noting, “it is reasonable to expect that provision will be made for the preservation of the knowledge of revelation in some permanent and authoritative form.  Otherwise, the object in giving revelation would be frustrated” (p. 155).

Though Orr’s unwillingness to defend the uniform truthfulness of Biblical content is distressing, could he have been on target in other ways? Is it that Orr saw a fundamental disconnect between the Westminster construal of the infallibility of Scripture stressing immediate inspiration and divine preservation and the new construal of inerrancy by Hodges/Warfield?


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Paul, the historical Jesus, and 1 Corinthians 7

Image:  Modern statue of Paul's conversion at the Chapel of St. Paul in Damascus, Syria

What did Paul know about the historical Jesus?  This is a question still asked in NT scholarship.  Liberal scholars have suggested that Paul knew little about the historical Jesus. They even suggest that Paul distorted the message of Jesus, whom they see as having taught a simple ethical message about the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.  It is also said that in keeping with the free and charismatic nature of the early Christian movement, Paul’s knowledge of Jesus came from his own ecstatic experience rather than from reliable written and oral tradition.

Conservative scholars, of course, defend Paul’s knowledge of the historical Jesus and affirm that his teaching was in line with that of Jesus and his original disciples. Though Paul did have ecstatic experiences (cf. his meeting the risen Jesus on the Damascus Road in Acts 9 and other ecstatic experiences; cf. Gal :11-12; 2 Cor 12:1-4), this does not exclude his learning of Jesus through more ordinary means (cf. e.g.,  his consultation with the “pillars” in Jerusalem in Galatians 2).  There also seems to be some evidence that Paul knew of the Gospels or of the traditions incorporated in them.  Tradition held Luke to have been Paul’s companion.  If so, it would make sense that Paul might have known Luke’s Gospel and commended its use among the churches over which he had influence.  In 1 Timothy 5:18 we have what seems to be a quotation from Luke 10:17 (“And, The laborer is worthy of his reward.”) laid alongside a quotation from Deuteronomy 25:4 and mutually introduced, “For the scripture saith….”.  Many in the early church took Paul’s mention in 2 Corinthians 8:18 of “the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches” as a reference to Luke.

Some of this discussion has centered on how to interpret several of Paul’s statement in his teaching in 1 Corinthians 7.  Here are some comments on a few of these passages (and two others from 1 Corinthians):

1 Corinthians 7:10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:

Here Paul says this command does not come only from him but also from the Lord.  Did he mean he got this from experience?  Is he saying that Jesus gave him a special revelation of this teaching?  Or, is he simply using spiritual language to describe having learned this teaching from settled Christian tradition or even from the written Gospels? Most likely he knows of a tradition where Jesus specifically forbade the abandonment of a spouse (cf. Matthew 19:3-9; Mark 10:3-12; Luke 16:18).

1 Corinthians 7:12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.

Is Paul saying that this counsel is on a lower level of authority since it comes from him and not directly from the Lord (Jesus)?  Probably not.  Paul speaks as an apostle, and so he necessarily speaks with authority (cf. Galatians 1; 1 Thessalonians 2:13).  Perhaps he simply means he know of no place where Jesus directly addressed this particular situation, so he can only offer his authority as an apostle apart from supporting authority that might have come from a direct teaching of Jesus during his earthly ministry.

1 Corinthians 7:40 But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.

Is Paul speaking tentatively here?  Probably not.  He is affirming that he thinks (dokeo) he has the Spirit of God.  The verb could also be rendered:  I assume, or I judge, or I determine.  All these sound much less tentative.  The teaching has authority in that it comes from Paul as an apostle and that it appears in an inspired letter.

1 Corinthians 11:23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

How did Paul receive this from the Lord?  Did it come through a vision?  Possibly, but more likely it is spiritual language for Paul having received reliable Christian tradition in oral or written form.  Compare Paul’s teaching here on the Last Supper and the institution of the Lord’s Supper with Luke 22:19-20.

1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;

Here Paul speaks of Christian tradition (paradosis) he is conveying which was handed down to him regarding the central facts of the gospel:  the death, burial, resurrection, and appearances of Jesus.

Conclusion:  Paul had received and knew faithful traditions about Jesus handed down to him by those who were Christians before him, especially from the original disciples of Jesus.  He may have known the canonical Gospels, especially Luke.  His knowledge of Jesus did not depend on ecstatic experience.   Paul drew instead on the traditions he received in his teaching, but when he did not have this direct guidance he could still assert his teaching authority as an apostle.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Book Note: Inspiration and Interpretation

John F. Walvoord, Ed.,  Inspiration and Interpretation (Eerdmans, 1957):  280 pp.

This collection of essays is described in the book’s front matter as “An Evangelical Theological Society Publication.”  Indeed, it was one of the early efforts of that society (founded in 1949) to provide an academic defense of traditional views of the Bible.

The work consists of ten essays.   The opening nine are studies of various theologians focused on their understanding of Scripture.  These are arranged chronologically.  The first five concern men from the pre-critical era (Irenaeus, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley).  The next four focus on modern figures (Sanday, Rowley, Brunner, Niebuhr).  The final essay by Carl Henry provides a summary on the doctrine of revelation.

The essays:

J. Barton Payne, “The Biblical Interpretation of Irenaeus” (pp. 11-66).

David W. Kerr, “Augustine of Hippo,” (pp. 67-86).

Theodore Mueller, “Luther and the Bible” (pp. 87-114).

Kenneth S. Kantzer, “Calvin and the Holy Scriptures” (pp. 115-155).

George A. Turner, “John Wesley as an Interpreter of Scripture” (pp. 156-178)

R. Laird Harris, “Sanday and the Scriptures” (pp. 179-188).

Merrill F. Unger, “H. H. Rowley and the New Trend in Biblical Studies” (pp. 189-209).

Paul King Jewett, “Emil Brunner’s Doctrine of Scripture” (pp. 210-238).

Edward John Carnell, “Reinhold Niebuhr’s View of Scripture” (pp. 239-252).

Carl F. H. Henry, “Divine Revelation and the Bible” (pp. 253-278).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I find the opening five essays to be the best. Each illustrates a historically high view of the Christian Scriptures, which collectively argues for this as the historic Christian position. So, Payne can say, for example, that Irenaeus’s “doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture is that of the Reformation” (p. 46).  Kantzer’s essay particularly stands out. He notes, in particular, Calvin’s dictation view of inspiration (pp. 137 ff.).  His insistence that Calvin held to the modern construal of the inerrancy of the autographa (see p. 144), a la modern evangelicalism, however, appears anachronistic. With the sketch of Wesley, the homo unius libri [man of one book], one picks up on a shift in this trajectory, that from the confessional view of the Reformation to the more pragmatic view of evangelicalism.

The final essays are perhaps less interesting, because they are more dated in content. They reflect the concerns of evangelicals at the mid-twentieth century to defend (and, in at least one case, even, perhaps, to accommodate) the faith against the dialectic theology of neo-orthodoxy and the skepticism and relativism of modern historical-critical Biblical studies. These essays are also chronological and reveal a trajectory of evangelical encounters with modernism. In the sketch of Sanday one see the efforts at mediation between tradition and modern criticism. Unger’s essay stands out for its forthright challenge to the acceptance of higher criticism by Rowley and others. As Unger puts it, those who embrace higher criticism eventuate “in religious irrelevance and spiritual barrenness” (p. 207). Jewett likewise disavows Brunner’s view of the Bible’s authority, noting that in his thought this authority is “dwarfed to the vanishing point” (p. 238). Carnell, however, oddly ends his essay on Niebuhr with this conclusion: “Therefore, he defends the Bible as the Word of God” (p. 252). Again, these later articles appear less relevant than the earlier ones.  Though interest remains high in the views of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin on Scripture few today take much interest in Brunner or Niebuhr.

Henry’s final essay offers insights into evangelical efforts to defend traditional views of the Bible as special revelation against liberal nineteenth century attacks, including in areas related to the text, transmission, and translation of the Bible. Viewed in hindsight, it also provides some indications of why that defense has not always been effective. Henry can affirm, for example, “The present text is essentially continuous with the original” (p. 273). He has embraced the notion of the inerrant original but is aware of the liberal challenge that this argument is useless if no such original has been preserved. The best modern evangelicalism can offer apologetically is an approximate or “essentially” accurate text.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Calvin: And there were shepherds

Note:  John Calvin’s commentary on Luke 2:8.  It is interesting that Calvin sees the shepherds in Luke 2 as foreshadowing the role of pastors/elders/bishops in the church.  Like the shepherds, pastors are humble men, taken “from among the dung of beast,” given the task of telling others about Jesus.

Luke 2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

It would have been to no purpose that Christ was born in Bethlehem, if it had not been made known to the world.  But the method of doing so, which is described by Luke, appears to the view of men very unsuitable.  First, Christ is revealed but to a few witnesses, and that too amidst the darkness of night.  Again, though God had, at his command, many honorable and distinguished witnesses, he passed by them, and chose shepherds, persons of humble rank, and of no account among men.  Here the reason and wisdom of the flesh, must prove to be foolishness; and we must acknowledge that “the foolishness of God” (1 Cor 1:25) excels all the wisdom that exists or appears to exist, in the world.  But this too was a part of the “emptying of himself” (Phil 1:6), not that any part of Christ’s glory should be taken away by it, but that it should lie in concealment for a time.  Again, as Paul reminds us, that the gospel is mean according to the flesh, “that our faith should stand” in the power of the Spirit, not in the “lofty words of human wisdom,” or in any worldly splendor (1 Cor 2:4-5), so this inestimable “treasure” has been deposited by God, from the beginning, “in earthen vessels” (2 Cor 4:7), that he might more fully try the obedience of our faith.  If we desire to come to Christ, let us not be ashamed to follow those whom the Lord, in order the cast down the pride of the world, has taken, from among the dung of the beast, to be our instructor.


Friday, December 23, 2016

The Vision (12.23.16): Calvin on Great Joy

Image:  CRBC outreach at Epworth Manor Apartments, Louisa, Virginia (12.21.16)

Note:  Devotion taken from John Calvin’s commentary on Luke 2:8-14.

Luke 2:10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

The angel opens his discourse by saying that he announces great joy; and next assigns the ground or matter of joy, that a Savior is born. These words show us first, that until men have peace with God, and are reconciled to him through the grace of Christ, all the joy that they experience is deceitful, and of short duration. Ungodly men frequently indulge in frantic and intoxicating mirth; but if there be none to make peace between them and God, the hidden stings of conscience must produce fearful torment. Besides, to whatever extent they may flatter themselves in luxurious indulgence; their own lusts are so many tormentors. The commencement of solid joy is, to perceive the fatherly love of God toward us, which alone gives tranquility to our minds.  And this “joy,” in which, Paul tells us, “the kingdom of God” consists is “in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). By calling it great joy, he shows us, not only that we ought, above all things, to rejoice in the salvation brought us by Christ, but that this blessing is so great and boundless, as fully to compensate for all the pains, distresses, and anxieties of the present life. Let us learn to be so delighted with Christ alone, that the perception of his grace may overcome and at great length remove from us, all the distresses of the flesh.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Benefits of Christian Community: The Church

Image:  Fellowship at the Grace Evangelical Church, Hong Kong

This post continues notes from my sermon preached on December 11, 2016 on "The Benefits of Christian Community" from Ecclesiastes 4:9-16.

We need the benefits of the church (the brethren in the local, visible body of believers):

Jesus taught in the New Commandment that his disciples were to love one another (John 13:34-35).  In Hebrews 10 we read the exhortation:

Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Charles Bridges observes:

The live coal left alone soon loses its vital heat.  But heap the coals around it, and we have a genial atmosphere.  The most lively professor left alone is in danger of waxing cold in selfishness.  But the precious ‘communion of saints’ warms the Christian from the very centre (Ecclesiastes, p. 91).

He later adds:

This principle also rebukes the religious solitaire—that isolated being, who belong to no Church, because no Church is perfect enough for him…..  Surely it is better to belong to an imperfect (not heretical) Church than to none (p. 91).

Psalm 68:6 says, “God setteth the solitary in families.”

It is a “social obligation” of every believer to be part of a local church.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Word Magazine # 66: Review: DelHousaye on Mark's Ending

I just posted Word Magazine # 66:  Review:  DelHousaye on Mark’s Ending.  That’s right, another WM on the Ending of Mark.  This time the review is of comments made by Dr. John DelHousaye of Phoenix Seminary during a panel discussion at the January 16, 2015 Together for the Gospel Arizona Regional Conference (watch the video here; comments on Mark’s ending begin at the 11:46 mark).  The conference topic was “The Bible: Canon, Texts, and Translations.”  Speakers included Wayne Grudem, John Meade, and John DelHousaye, all from Phoenix Seminary, and Peter Williams of Tyndale House.  The panel was asked about how the ending of Mark should be handled and DelHousaye gave what has come to be a rather typical response from evangelical scholars.  That is, he dismisses the traditional ending of Mark (16:9-20) as spurious on external and internal grounds and suggests that Mark’s original ending was Mark 16:8.

I close with two observations:

First, I note that the current evangelical rejection of Mark 16:9-20 is actually a far more radical position even than that taken by Bruce Metzger.  In his book The Canon of the New Testament (Clarendon, corrected 1989) Metzger notes regarding Mark’s Ending:

There seems to be good reason, therefore, to conclude that, though external and internal evidence is conclusive against the authenticity of the last twelve verses as coming from the same pen as the rest of the Gospel, the passage ought to be accepted as part of the canonical text of Mark (p. 270; thanks to AJM for the heads up for this quote).

So, Metzger did not believe that Mark 16:9-20 was original, but he did believe it should be accepted as part of the canonical text of Mark.  Oddly enough today, it is the “conservatives” who are taking the far more radical position of rejecting Mark’s traditional ending altogether!

Second, I offer a challenge to my fellow pastors, expositors, and preachers to read at least five suggested works defending the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 before preaching or teaching on the ending of the Second Gospel.  To be even handed, I also suggest reading five works making the case against the originality of the traditional ending.  Read my blog post extending this challenge here.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Pastoral Challenge: A reading list before you preach on the Ending of Mark

I’ve recently recorded several Word Magazine podcasts on the ending of Mark.  Many contemporary evangelical and even Calvinistic and Reformed men are suggesting not only that Mark 16:9-20 was not written by Mark but that it is a spurious and uninspired addition created by a “rogue” scribe and should not be considered part of the canonical text of Mark’s Gospel.

To my fellow pastors and expositors I want to offer this challenge:  Before you preach on the Ending of Mark, exercise due diligence and read at least the following five sources which defend the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20:

1.  John W. Burgon, The Last Twelve Verses of Mark (original 1871; Sovereign Grace Publishers Reprint, 2000).  You can read the entire book online or download a free pdf at (look here).

2.  William R. Farmer, The Last Twelve Verses of Mark, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 25 (Cambridge University Press, 1974).

3.  Maurice A. Robinson, “The Long Ending of Mark as Canonical Verity,” in David Alan Black, Ed., Perspectives on the Ending of Mark:  4 Views (B & H Academic, 2008):  40-79.

4.  Nicholas P. Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark:  A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (Pickwick Publications, 2014).

5.  James Snapp, Jr., Authentic:  The Case for Mark 16:9-20.  2016 Edition.  Find the Kindle version here.    Read a summary of Snapp’s arguments here.

To be completely fair and even-handed, I would also suggest that you read the following five sources which reject the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20:

1.  B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek with Notes on Selected Readings (original 1882; Hendricken reprint, 1988). See notes on Mark 16:9-20 in Appendix, pp. 29-51.

2.  Bruce M. Metzger, “The Ending(s) of Mark” in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition (Deutche Bibelgeselschaft, 1994):  pp. 102-107.
3.  D. C. Parker, “The endings of Mark’s Gospel” in The Living Texts of the Gospels (Cambridge University Press, 1997):  pp. 124-147.

4.  Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament:  Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Fourth Edition (Oxford University Press, 2005):  pp. 322-327.

5.  Daniel B. Wallace, “Mark 16:8 as the Conclusion to the Second Gospel,” in David Alan Black, Ed., Perspectives on the Ending of Mark:  4 Views (B & H Academic, 2008):  pp. 1-39.

Reading these sources will allow you to make a better informed judgment about the text of the ending of Mark and the canonical status of Mark 16:9-20.  I also believe that a fair evaluation of the evidence will convince many who are skeptical about the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 to change their minds and confidently affirm it.


Monday, December 19, 2016

The Benefits of Christian Community: Marriage

This post continues notes from my sermon preached on December 11, 2016 on "The Benefits of Christian Community" from Ecclesiastes 4:9-16.

We should realize that not every Christian will be called to marriage.  Jesus himself never married, and he was the perfect example of contentedness and satisfaction in all his relationships.  Some will be called to singleness, and some will be single due to the providential circumstances of their lives.  In fact, man in the glorified state will be single, since at the resurrection there will be neither marriage nor giving in marriage (Matt 22:30).  The glorified man will be singly devoted to God alone.

In this life, however, we have the institution of marriage as the bedrock of the family.  Even those who do not marry benefit from the community that comes through marriage and family.

When God made the first man we read:

Genesis 2:18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

Genesis 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Sin and the fall brought distortion into that relationship, but it is still good in God’s sight.  In fact, Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 that the marriage relationship reflects the great mystery of the relationship between Christ and the church.

We are living in a culture that is increasingly hostile to marriage, whether that comes in the form of the culture’s attempt to disregard God’s good design of gender or the state’s attempt to replace the father’s care for his household.  But Jesus said:  “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6b).

Marriage provides mutual economic benefit in the division of household labors (cf. Ecc 4:9).

It provides mutual aid in times of trouble (cf. Ecc 4:10).

It provides mutual warmth in an often cold world (cf. Ecc 4:11).

It provides mutual defense against temptation and attacks (cf. Ecc 4:12).

And when the two conceive a third, their own child, this is the cord that binds them even closer together and makes their union even stronger.

For a Christian, of course, the standard is that he would only seek marriage to a fellow believer.  He cannot be unequally yoked (2 Cor 6:14). Paul told Christian widows they could re-marry but “only in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39).

For the Christian, marriage is an act of discipleship.  Your partner becomes your dearest companion and your co-laborer in the gospel.  Think of Aquila  and Priscilla in Acts 18 who ministered both to Paul through hospitality and to Apollos through discipleship.

In the third century a Christian theologian named Tertullian wrote a treatise on marriage wherein he said the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christian marriage provides the benefit of Christian community.