Friday, April 28, 2017

The Vision (4.28.17): Cast thy bread upon the waters

Image Golden euonymus, North Garden, Virginia, April 2017

Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Ecclesiastes 11:1-6.

Ecclesiastes 11:1 Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt find it after many days.

The verse begins with what to modern ears is an enigmatic command: “Cast thy bread upon the waters….” It seems nonsensical. Throw bread on water! What does it mean?

This is a farming or an agricultural image, having to do with the sowing of seed (cf. vv. 4, 6). Casting bread on the waters means sow your seed—the seed that will produce grain or bread—on the waters.

Reformed theologian John Currid explains:

What is this picture? From ancient Egypt, we know of an agricultural practice in which farmers would scatter seed on top of the Nile River when it was in its latest stage of inundation. When the water receded, the seed would then be deeply deposited in the rich soil on the banks of the river. In due time, it would germinate and produce a rich harvest (Ecclesiastes, p. 135).

Part of the point is to say: Sow your seed even if the natural conditions might not seem right or favorable for so-doing. There is one thing for certain: If you never sow the seed, you will never see the fruit.

The second part of v. 1 is a promise from God: “for thou shalt find it after many days.” The one who labors faithfully for Christ should expect that there will be a return or a reward or fruit that comes from the Lord. But this comes only “after many days.” We live in an ‘immediate gratification” culture. We want to see results yesterday. But that is often NOT the way the Lord most often works with his people.  We must strive for faithfulness, whatever the immediate outcome, and take the long view on all our labors.

John Currid is again helpful here:

Much of our toil for the Lord may seem in vain, but we are to continue with it whether or not we see any immediate return. It will have consequences; however, it may be that your work may not have any result even until years after your death. But it will have results. We don’t know how it will return –that is in the hands of God—but we do know that it will return, and that is the mystery of providence (Ecclesiastes, p. 136).

This reminded me of the description of Abraham and Sarah in Hebrews 11. They were promised that from Abraham’s seed there would come a great nation, which would be a blessing to all the nations (Gen 12:1-3).  They saw, through hardships, the birth of Isaac, but, in their lifetimes, they did not see the ultimate fulfillment of that promise. Compare:

Hebrews 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

Yet, they did not give up. The cast their bread upon the water. We should do the same.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Book Review: Uneasy in Babylon

Still uploading some old articles and reviews. Today I uploaded my book review of Barry Hankins, Uneasy in Babylon from Faith & Mission, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Spring 2004): 91-93. You can read the review on here. I also recorded a spoken word version of the review and posted it to (listen here). This is another work reflective of my time in SBC life. This book was much talked about in SBC circles in that time. The Spring 2003 issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology was dedicated to responding to Hankins' book under the theme "Theology, Culture, and the SBC." You can find an archive of this entire issue of the SBJT here. Included is a rejoinder by Hankins (find it here).

BTW, I also uploaded to my review of C. H. Pappas, In Defense of the Authenticity of 1 John 5:7 from Puritan Reformed Journal, Vol. 8, No. 1 (January 2016): 281-84 (read it here). The audio of this review has been up for a while (listen here). I was prompted to put this up after getting a friendly email from Pastor Pappas this morning.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Word Magazine # 74: 1919 Statement of Belief and the SBC

I just posted WM # 74: 1919 Statement of Belief and the SBC to

This episode offers a review and some reflections on an article I wrote 14 years ago: Jeffrey T. Riddle, "The 1919 Statement and the Tradition of Confessional Boundaries for Southern Baptist Missionaries," Faith & Mission, No. 20, Vol. 2 (Spring 2003): 40-59. You can read the entire article on here.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Word Magazine # 73: Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM)

I have posted to the audio for Word Magazine # 73: The Coherence-BasedGeneaological Method (CBGM). Below are the notes for this episode:

I.                Introduction

What is the CBGM? It is a new approach in text criticism, which makes use of sophisticated computer technology and databases to provide study and analysis of witnesses to the NT and their relationship to each other, based on comparison of these witnesses and their variants. The method of was developed by Gerd Mink and other scholars at the Institute for New Testament Research at the University of Muenster, Germany. It has been used in the ongoing publication of the Editio Critica Maior (ECM, or “Greater Critical Edition”), a major revision of the modern critical text, meant eventually to update and replace the text which now underlies the text in the popular handbooks (the most recent editions of which are the NA28 and the UBS Fifth editions). The Catholic Epistles of the ECM were published in 1997 and revised in 2013. Volumes on Acts and John, the latter in cooperation with the “International Greek New Testament Project”, are in preparation and the entire ECM NT is projected to be completed by 2030.

The ECM text of the Catholic Epistles was used in the most recent handbook editions: NA28 (2012) and UBS5 (2013). This is explained in the introduction to each work (see NA28, pp. 48-51; UBS5, “Preface”).

We can point to at least three significant changes:

1.    The text is altered in the Catholic Epistles in 33 (34?) places. They are listed in the NA28 pp. 50-51.

Most of these changes are minor but there are two significant changes, at Jude 5 (reading “Jesus” rather than “Lord”) and 2 Peter 3:10 (inclusion of the conjecture “not”).

2.    Rather than brackets, the text uses diamonds for disputed passages. Gurry on the Reformed Forum podcast: “The editors formally refrain from any judgment on which reading is original.” Gurry reports there are about 30 brackets in NA 27 and about 40 diamonds in NA28. So, there is “slightly more uncertainty” about the text.

3.    Rather than use the Gothic “M” for the Majority or Byzantine text, the ECM/NA28/UBS5 uses the designation “Byz” for Majority or Byzantine readings.

II.              Some Positive Developments

1.    The CBGM rejects the traditional text-types

Gurry: “The most significant, and for that reason, controversial [changes ushered in by the CBGM] is that it has convinced the editors of NA28/UBS5 to abandon the longstanding notion of manuscript text-types. This shift alone could be momentous for the discipline” (p. 685).

The abandonment of text-types comes from the CBGM method’s emphasis on “texts” (the actual words) rather than “manuscripts” (physical copies or artifacts that contain the words).

Why is this positive? It unravels the presumption, held since Westcott and Hort, of the superiority of the so-called Alexandrian text.

2.    The CBGM has resulted in “renewed appreciation for the Byzantine text” (Gurry, p. 685).

Up front: If text-types are rejected why are we even talking about a “Byzantine text”? Gurry explains: “We should note that the editors make an exception to their rejection of text-types with regard to the Byzantine text” (p. 685, n. 24).

Gurry: The CBGM has resulted in “a renewed appreciation for the so-called Byzantine text which dominates the Greek NT manuscripts from the ninth century and beyond. The text form has generally been disparaged by NT critics as being late and unreliable…. But the CBGM for the Catholic Epistles shows that a number of Byzantine witnesses are, in fact, very close to the editor’s own reconstructed text” (p. 685).

As a result, about a third of the changes in the NA28/UBS5 are in support of Byzantine readings over readings in witnesses like p72, Alpeh, A, B,  and C (p. 685).

III.            Problems with the CBGM

1.    The use of computer/digital technology to compare witnesses and variants does not preclude human subjectivity in text criticism.

Klaus Wachtel: “The CBGM is a method that helps to control the subjective element in text criticism, but it is clear that other scholars starting from different premises will come to different conclusions” (Editing the Bible, p. 138).

Gurry: “One of the most frequent issues with the CBGM is understanding exactly how much influence it has had on the editors’ text critical judgments. Unfortunately, this question is not one that can be answered by a simple description of the method itself. That is because the results provided by the CBGM, like all text critical data, have to be weighed and interpreted by a human” (p. 686).

2.    The CBGM, like the rest of modern text criticism, is not exempt from the charge of “circular reasoning.”

The problem is that scholars often tend to reach outcomes based on their initial presuppositions. So, Westcott and Hort favored the uncials Sinaiticus and Vaticanus as the basis of the “neutral text.” Thus, any reading that agreed with these mss. they designated as authentic and original, while any reading that deviated from them they designated as inauthentic and spurious.

Though CBGM has abandoned the traditional text families, the scholars using the method have presuppositions.

In his insightful booklet Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism, philosopher Gordon Clark points out some of the problems and inconsistencies with the reasoning used in modern text criticism, noting “much of textual criticism cannot claim immunity from logical analysis” (p. 11).

3.    The CBGM continues the “restorationist” approach to the text of the NT, even though it has abandoned as untenable any possibility of recovering the original text.

It seeks to go back as far as it can to the “Initial text” and to trace the historical development of the text. The method results in giving credence to conjectural emendation (cf. 2 Peter 3:10). It does not have as its goal the achieving a fixed, standard or stable text, which can be used as a firm basis for confessional Christianity.

This method, thus far, has only been applied to the catholic epistles. How will it be applied to the rest of the NT? Will it include more conjectural emendations like that in 2 Peter 3:10?

Will vernacular translation begin to adapt these reading? Some translations, like the ESV and the CSB (Christian Standard Bible) have already adopted “Jesus” rather than “Lord’ at Jude 5. Will the modern critical text of 2 Peter 3:10 be adopted in future translations?

4.    The esoteric CBGM method is being used by only a very small number of scholars, primarily in one German academic institute.

The text of the Bible has been taken out of the hands of the church and placed in the hands of the academy.

As Solomon said, “of making many books there is no end” (Ecc 12:12). We might paraphrase, “of making many editions of the new and improved modern critical text” there is no end.

The Vision (4.21.17): The Mystery of Godliness

Image: Azalea, North Garden, Virginia, April 2017

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday morning's sermon on 1 Timothy 3:16.

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory (1 Timothy 3:16).

Matthew Henry begins his exposition of this verse: “What is the mystery of godliness? It is Christ.”

The verse presents six points about Jesus:

First: “God was manifest in the flesh.”

This is a place of textual controversy. I believe the traditional text gets it right: God (rather than “he” as in some modern translations) was manifest in the flesh.

This speaks to the doctrine of the incarnation, the Word made flesh (John 1:14).

Second: he was “justified in the Spirit.”

The sense here is of Christ having been vindicated through his resurrection from the dead. This came about by the work of the Spirit (see Rom 1:3-4).

Matthew Henry: “Whereas he was reproached as a sinner, and put to death as a malefactor, he was raised again by the Spirit, and so was justified from all the calumnies with which he was loaded.”

Third, he was “seen of angels.”

What do we make of this? Surely the angels looked up the second person of the Godhead before his incarnation. They were created by him (cf. John 1:3; Heb 1:2).

According to Luke 2, the angelic host announced his birth to the shepherds (vv. 13-14).

When arrested and taken to be crucified, Jesus said he might have called upon “twelve legions of angels” to rescue him (Matt 26:53). No doubt, the angels looked on with deep sadness and horror at the cross.

But they also looked with awe at the resurrection. It was the angels appeared to the women at the empty tomb and announced that Jesus was risen (cf. Mark 16:6).

Fourth, he was “preached unto the Gentiles.”

After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples to teach all nations (Matthew 28:19-20) and to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15).

The shocking thing to many Jewish Christians, Paul included, was that the gospel would be taken to non-Jews (cf. Rom 1:5; Eph 3:1-7).

Fifth, he was “believed on in the world.”

Where Jesus was preached, some men came to believe. Not all men but some (the elect of God). And this happened in the world, among both Jews and Gentiles.

This is beautifully anticipated in John 12, when the Pharisees say, “behold, the world is gone after him” (v. 19).

Christianity is a universal faith, not that it teaches universalism (universal salvation, regardless of response to Christ), but that it teaches that men from all nations are among the elect of God (cf. John 10:16).

Sixth he was “received up into glory.”

The final point refers to the ascension of Jesus. He was received up into glory. We have a full narrative of this in Acts 1 (see vv. 3-11). Jesus appeared for 40 days to his apostles and then he commanded them to wait for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and then to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth.

This was prophesied in Psalm 47:5: “God is gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of the trumpet.”

Where is Jesus now? He is seated at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19); all things are being put under his footstool (Psalm 110:1); he makes intercession for the saints (Hebrews 7:25).

To be a Christian is to confess the mystery of godliness revealed in Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Vision (4.14.17): By much slothfulness the building decayeth

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Ecclesiastes 10:16-20.

By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through (Ecclesiastes 10:18).

Here Solomon warns the godly and wise man against slothfulness. The warning comes by analogy to the maintenance of a home.  Every home owner knows that to keep that house in good order, he must exercise regular maintenance. Air and water filters have to be cleaned, the lawn has to be mowed, rooms have to be painted, sinks have to be scrubbed, carpets have to be cleaned. If some regular maintenance and cleaning is not done, the building will fall into disrepair and the roof will collapse.

I can have a reminder of this any day by just looking out my back door to the neighboring lot where at one time there stood what was, no doubt, a well-maintained house and out-building. But years ago it was abandoned and has now gone into disarray.
The second law of thermodynamics or the law of entropy says that the inevitable and natural tendency of all things is to go from order to disorder.
Solomon warns that if a man gives in to slothfulness and he is not ever vigilant, then that which has been given to his stewardship will be destroyed.
This is a constant theme in the Proverbs:
Proverbs 23:  21 For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.
Proverbs 24:30 I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; 31  And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. 32  Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. 33 Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: 34 So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.
In context, the first application of this is to rulers, those given the stewardship of government in some sphere (see 10:16-17). If you are not diligent and if you succumb to laziness, you will fail in your stewardship and destroy what has been given to you.
The application, however, is wider. Currid observes: “This is true of all aspects of our lives: our families, our businesses, our appearance, our spiritual lives, and so forth” (Ecclesiastes, p. 133).
Charles Bridges makes similar application:
Want of family discipline issues in the same result. When evils, apparently trifling, are allowed, the tendency to decay become more and more visible.
Public institutions and laws—however permanent they seem to be—need continual and active review in order to their amendment.
There is also intellectual slothtfulness much to be resisted, unless one would allow palsy of every faculty (Ecclesiastes, p. 255).
He cites one old author who called idleness “the nursery of sins” and adds:
            Idleness of hands is often connected with worldliness of heart (p. 256).
            Never expect spiritual wealth, while indulging carnal sloth (p. 257).
Let us be diligent in the stewardship of our lives to the glory of God and the blessing of man.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Gleanings from Charles Bridges' "The Christian Ministry"

Gleanings from Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry (original 1830; abridged edition, 1849; Banner of Truth reprint, 1967):

Our plain and cheering duty is therefore to go forward—to scatter seed—to believe and wait (p. 76).

Ours is the care of service—His is the care of success. “The Lord of the harvest must determine, when, and what, and where the harvest shall be” (p. 76).

Cowper’s line—‘If parsons fiddle, why may’nt laymen dance?’ –has at least as much truth as wit in it (p. 121).

…and who knoweth, but that we shall find that our most successful efforts for our people were the hours—not when we were speaking to them from God, but when we were speaking for them to God? (p. 149).

Believe—wait—work—are the watchwords of the Ministry (p. 179).

So true is it, that we must preach the Gospel, in order to reform the world (p. 242).

No souls, therefore, can be won to him, except by setting forth his name, work, and glory (p. 245).

Indeed, we are bound to explain to our people, according to the light afforded us, every part of the book, which was designed for general instruction, and of which we are the ordained interpreters (p. 249).

If some poison their people, others may be in danger of starving them (p. 254).

Let Christ be the diamond to shine in the bosom of all your sermons (p. 258).

Christian experience is the influence of doctrinal truth upon the affections (p. 259).

Our doctrine must be as a garment, fitted for the body it is made for; a garment that is fit for every body, is fit for nobody (p. 270).

The Minister, that does not manifestly put his heart into his sermon, will never put his sermon into the heart of his people…. A painted fire may glare, but will not warm (p. 320).

How gently we handle those sins, which will so cruelly handle our people’s souls (p. 323)!

The constant repetition,—not the weight—of the heavenly showers, makes impressions on the hardest substances (p. 326).

Favoritism in Scripture is the grand parent of both heresy and instability of profession (p. 378).

Experience shows us, that often the most difficult work remains when we have come down from the pulpit, needing special direction of prayer, study, and careful regard to our Master’s ministration for its effectual discharge. On one particular, however, we cannot mistake; that to all, of every class and at every stage, the attractions of the cross must be unfolded, and its heavenly glory made intelligible…. (p. 383).

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Idea for a Video Cover of "Imagine"

The other day I was driving along and the John Lennon song “Imagine” came on the air. This is one of the my all-time least favorite pop songs. This anti-religion rant is one of the most self-righteous, hateful and hypocritical of all time, as it indiscriminately bashes all religious belief in the supposed name of tolerance.

The thought came to my mind that I’d like to see someone make a cover video of the song. As the music begins, I see the camera focusing in on a group of swaying figures come together for a “We Are the World”-esque rendition of the number. Among the figures are Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, Fidel Castro, and Hugo Chavez. They form the chorus as various singers step to the mic for their solos:

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try

Pol Pot:
No hell below us
Above us only sky

Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too

Imagine all the people living life in peace, you

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one

I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you


You may say I'm a dreamer

But I'm not the only one

I hope some day you'll join us

And the world will be as one

(Fade to black)

Friday, April 07, 2017

The Vision (4.7.17) The Contrast Between the Wise and Foolish Man

Image: Cherry blossoms, University of Washington

Note: Devotion taken from March 19 sermon on Ecclesiastes 10:1-5.

Ecclesiastes 10:2 A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at his left. 3 Yea also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth him, and he saith to every one that he is a fool.

Solomon begins: “A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at his left” (v. 2). This is not an anatomy lesson but a figure of speech. Sorry to all the left-handed people, but from ancient times the right has been associated with what is true, just, and right, and the left with what is false, unjust, and corrupt. The English word “sinister” comes from the Latin for “left-handed.”

In the Bible, the heart is the seat of one’s affections. What do you love? What excites your interest and passions? Is it the things of God or the things of man?

Paul wrote:

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Where is your heart? On the right or the left?

Added in v. 3 is the description of the fool. As he walks by the way, his wisdom fails him, and he declares, “that he is a fool.” Here is John Currid’s explanation:

The idea here is that he really does not know where he is going. In addition, at every turn on the road he proclaims his own folly and exposes himself as godless. He cannot conceal it, and he is not ashamed of it. This is the one who tries to find meaning and significance apart from God, and thus he wallows in his own folly (Ecclesiastes, p. 128).

Solomon urges his hearers to reject foolishness and to be godly men whose hearts are set on Biblical wisdom. Will we be wise or foolish?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Monday, April 03, 2017

Even More Seattle Scenes

Getting ready to return to Virginia. One more update from our visit to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.

On Thursday (3.30.17) we started the day by visiting the Lake Sammamish State Park and then on to the Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery. Though not as bustling as it will be in the Fall when the Salmon follow their instinct to return to the creek, spawn, and then die, we did get to tour the hatchery and see the tanks of growing Salmon "fry." From there we headed into the Cascade mountains and visited Leavenworth, Washington, the faux Bavarian village, ringed by snow-capped mountains, created in the 1960s, an exhibition of the entrepreneurial spirit.

On Friday (3.31.17), we headed back up I-5, caught the ferry over to Whidbey Island, drove to the picturesque, artsy town of Langley, Washington and took a whale watching trip on the Puget Sound, where we saw five whales and at least as many bald eagles. Back on land we took the island's scenic byway through Coupeville, Washington, walked through the historic wharf and main street shops, including the shop, now holding an ice cream joint, where Seattle's Best Coffee began. From there we drove through Deception Pass and back over to the mainland and home to Seattle.

On Saturday (4.1.17) we headed back into Seattle, visited the sprawling Elliot Bay Book Company in the Capitol Hill neighborhood with its virtue-signalling rainbow colored crosswalks. This began a day of many philosophical discussions on Christianity, culture, ethics, and being in the world but not of it. From there we headed to the visitors' center at the Bill and Melinda Gates' Foundation at the Seattle Center, then on to the Kerry Park Viewpoint in the Queen Anne neighborhood for some spectacular city views, and across to the University of Washington campus, where we got to join a huge crowd enjoying the cherry blossoms. Then, it was on to the sprawling UW campus bookstore where I sat in on a reading from Finnish physicist and "post-human" sci-fi writer (whom I had never heard of before our visit) Hannu Rajaniemi, promoting his new book (Suimmerland). Note: I got to ask Rajaniemi about his spiritual beliefs in the q and a. I did not get his new book but picked up a cheap paper-back of his 2010 debut novel. Finally, it was over to the original Wallingford location of Dick's Drive-in on 45th Street for burgers and shakes before heading home.

On Sunday (4.2.17) we again had the privilege of attending worship with the brethren at Emmanuel RBC. This is a sweet fellowship of believers. The sermons I preached while at ERBC can be found here.