Friday, June 30, 2017

The Vision (6.30.17): What seek ye?

Image: Lilies, North Garden, Virginia, June 2017

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 1:35-46.

Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? (John 1:38a).

Jesus turned to the two disciples of John the Baptist who began to follow him and asked them a question. Jesus is the great asker of questions. Men think they have questions for Jesus; let’s not forget that it is he who has questions for us. What matters is not your investigation of Jesus but his investigation of you.

These are the very first recorded words of Jesus in John’s Gospel. These are the first “red letter” words in John. Of course, every word in the Bible is a “red letter” word in that it is God-breathed by the triune God. But the first recorded words of the incarnate Jesus recorded in a Gospel are significant.

In Matthew, it comes in 3:15 when Jesus says to reluctant John at his baptism: “Suffer it to be so for now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.”

In Mark, it comes in 1:15 when Jesus preaches, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”

In Luke, it comes in 2:49 when the 12 year-old Jesus says to Mary and Joseph in the temple where they had left him, “How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not [or, Did you not know] that I must be about my Father’s business?”

The first recorded words of the Lord in John come in a question posed to two men who begin to follow him: “What seek ye?” What are you seeking? What are you looking for?

That is a great and fundamental spiritual question. Why would any men seek to follow Christ? Are you seeking knowledge? Happiness? Prosperity? Rest? Relief? Wisdom? There are many men who begin seeking after Christ for all the wrong reason or for no purposeful reason at all. But then he is so often so very gracious in that he gives them more than they ever could have asked or imagined. He finds out seekers, even those who might be more than little misguided in their seeking.

When we lived in post-communist Hungary in the early 1990s I recall seeing a ubiquitous billboard advertising a newly opened Ikea store.  The billboard had an Ikea catalogue on one side and a red-covered book with the title Marx, Das Kapital on the other. In between the two books was the saying, in Hungarian, “Which makes your life better?” At that time, the choice was clear for most Hungarians. They had given up on communism and wanted to pursue fulfillment through Western materialism, as represented by that catalogue.

Of course, I wanted to add a third book to that billboard. The Bible. The only thing that will really make your life better is knowing the God of the Bible. John wrote this Gospel so that those who read it might come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing they might have life in his name (cf. John 20:31).

What are you seeking to make your life better? You will only find real satisfaction if you seek Christ and follow him.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Is "sola Scriptura" a Reformation slogan?

I’m still working my way through Robert Letham’s Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective (Mentor, 2007). It includes an intriguing chapter comparing Orthodox and Reformed views on Scripture and tradition (pp. 173-198), in which Letham notes confusion, on both sides, about the term sola Scriptura.

Letham’s point is that the popular modern concept of sola Scriptura as a “right of private interpretation” was not a Reformation principle (see pp. 194-195). He adds: “To categorize Reformed theology as individualistic, with no doctrine of the church, is an error of monumental proportions” (p. 195). See similar reflections in Keith Mathison’s The Shape of Sola Scriptura on the difference between the Reformers’ view of sola Scriptura and modern individualistic evangelical view of what he calls “solo” Scriptura.

In this year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, many discussions on various points of Reformed theology and practice are surfacing. I noticed that the May 26, 2017 issue of Christianity Today has an interview with church historian Mark Noll titled, “The Freedom and Chaos of Sola Scriptura” (BTW, I do not, in fact, subscribe to “Christianity Yesterday,” as some derisively call it, but take a look at it, as well as the mainline The Christian Century, from time to time when I visit the central library, and I just happened to thumb through this issue last week). That article begins its discussion of the slogan by noting, “It has been a hallmark of Protestantism for 500 years….” That may be true of the concept but Letham suggests that the actual slogan does not go back that far.

Letham comments:

In fact, this slogan cannot be traced back to the sixteenth century; it was a much later concoction. Its intention was not to suggest that only the text of the Bible was acceptable. Indeed, the Reformers produced a wide range of new catechisms and confessions….  What they taught was that the Bible is the supreme authority, and sits in judgement on the teaching of the church, not vice versa (p. 175).

He later adds, regarding the term:

This is often taken to mean that the Bible is to be the only source for theology. It is almost universally claimed that it is one of the central pillars of the Reformation. However, there is not evidence of such a slogan in the entire sixteenth century. It is probable that it did not put in an appearance until the eighteenth century at the earliest. Contrary to so much hot air, it is not a Reformation slogan. When it was coined it was held to affirm that the Bible is the highest court of appeal in all matters of religious controversy, which is what the Reformers and their successors actually held.

So, Letham makes two interesting points:

First, historically, the exact term or slogan sola Scriptura was not, in fact, coined in the sixteenth century but in the eighteenth century (though Letham does not suggest who first coined the term—that would be interesting to know).

Second, theologically, the Reformed concept of sola Scriptura does not champion “private interpretation.” It also does not suggest that the Bible is the only source for theology but that it is the standard by which theology is rightly understood and evaluated.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

WM # 77: Jude 5

I recorded and uploaded this afternoon, Word Magazine # 77: Jude 5.

Here are my notes:

The NA28 incorporated for the first time use of the CBGM from the ECM, but only in the catholic epistles. The NA28 lists 33 changes from the NA27 (pp. 50-51). Most of these are minor, but there at least two major changes: 2 Peter 3:10 and Jude 5.

Note: The CBGM/ECM method will continue to be incorporated in future edition of the modern critical text. Recent posts on the ETC blog indicate two recent key developments coming out of Germany: (1) In June 2017 the Text und Textwert edition of Revelation was published (determining the witnesses cited in the ECM and eventually bound in reduced form for the NA) (see here); and (2) In August 2017 the two-volume ECM edition of Acts will be released (see here).

I.                The issue: Jude 5:

The major change is the use of “Jesus” rather than “Lord.”

Compare (emphasis added):

Jude 5 KJV: I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.

Jude 5 ESV: Now I want to remind you , although you once fully knew it, that Jesus who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.

II.              The external evidence: Jude 5:

There are some minor variations. A few mss. include the conjunction oun (C, Psi, etc.) and one ms. inserts “brethren [adelphoi]” (p78).

The major variation is at the phrase “though ye once knew this, how that the Lord” (KJV):

TR: eidotes humas hapax touto hoti ho kurios
NA27: eidotes [humas] panta hoti [ho] kurios hapax
NA 28: eidotes humas hapax panta hoti Iesous

The apparatus of the NA 28 lists no less than 13 variations:

1.    humas panta hoti kurios hapax (Sinaiticus)
2.    humas hapax touto hoti ho kurios (1175, 1448, Byz)
3.    hapax panta (touto: 5) hoti ho theos (C2, 5, vg mss)
4.    hapax touto hoti ho kurios (307, 436, 642)
5.    panta hoti ho theos hapax (442, 1243, 2492, vg mss, Syriac ph)
6.    panta hoti ho (-Psi) kurios hapax (Psi, 1611, Syriac h)
7.    hapax panta (pantas p72*) hoti theos christos (p72)
8.    hapax panta hoti (plus ho 33*) Iesous (A, 33, 81, 2344, vg)
9.    panta hoti ho Iesous hapax (88, sa mss?, bo?)
10. panta hoti Iesous hapax (1739 txt, sa ms? bo? Origen 1739 mg)
11. hapax touto hoti kurios Iesous (1735)
12. panta hapax gar Iesous (1739 varia lectio)
13. humas hapax panta hoti Iesous (B)


(1)  The NA28 reading is found is exactly found in only one ms: B [and there is no evidence that this reading was ever copied];

(2)  The main issue is the one acting (the Lord or Jesus), but there are other variants. See this table:

[ho] kurios
Sinaiticus, 1175, 1448, Byz; 307, 436, 642; Psi, 1611, Syriac h
A, B, 33, 81, 88, 1739 txt, 2344; vg, sa ms?, bo?, Origen 1739 mg, 1739 varia lectio
Kurios Iesous
C 2, 5, vg ms.; 442, 1243, 2492, vg mss., Syriac ph
theos christos

Observations: There are only 8 papyri mss. of the catholic epistles. Of those only 2 are of Jude; p72 (all of Jude); p78 (Jude 4-5, 7-8). Of the uncials, the evidence is divided. Sinaiticus has kurios, while A and B have Iesous.

III.            The Internal Evidence: Jude 5

See Bruce Meztger’s Textual Commentary, Second Edition, prepared for the UBS 4 (pp. 657-658). It gives [ho] kurios a “D” reading but retains it nonetheless.

He notes that the committee believed the reading of Iesous “was difficult to the point of impossibility,and explained its origin in terms of transcriptional oversight” (mistaking the nomina sacra for kurios [kappa sigma] as that for Jesus [iota sigma]).

He adds that nowhere else in Jude does the name Jesus appear alone but as Jesus Christ.

He also notes that though the Iesous reading is well attested it would be “strange and unparalleled” to ascribe to Jesus this OT action.

Here is a place where text criticism of the twentieth century (Metzger) is set against that of the twenty-first century (NA28)!

IV.            Conclusion:

Though the variation here is slight, it introduces the peculiar challenge of an unstable text for those who embrace the ever-changing modern critical text. One might argue that the modern text offers a high Christology by attributing to Jesus divine action in the exodus. But this would actually argue against it, since “the Lord’ is a reading of equal antiquity that apparently resists this pious tendency. Metzger’s explanation of confusion over the nomina sacra seems more than plausible.

The “new reading” was adapted by the ESV and the NET Bible even before NA28 was published. It has now been adopted by the NLT (2015) and the Christian Standard Bible (2017).

These are the first vernacular translations to offer this reading since the Protestant Reformation. But is this change warranted? I do not think it is. We should stick with the traditional reading.


Friday, June 23, 2017

The Vision (6.23.17): Behold the Lamb of God

Image: Hydrangea, North Garden, Virginia, June 2017

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 1:19-34.

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

John the Baptist here declares one of the great inspired images for the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Lamb of God. Calvin observes: “By the word Lamb [John] alludes to the ancient sacrifices of the Law.” Most likely, it would call to mind to Jewish ears the Passover lamb, whose blood was smeared over the doorposts to save the lives of all those under its marking.

This image speaks to his mildness, his gentleness, his passive obedience to the will of the Father. And it speaks to the atoning sacrifice of his life. Isaiah writes of him, “He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

In John’s vision of heaven in Revelation 5, he is told, “behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda,” (v. 5), but then he records, “And I beheld and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain…..” (v. 6). Later John hears the voice of many angels saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (v. 12).

The first mention of Jesus in John’s Gospel has the Baptist ascribing to him the title, “The Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” The shadow the cross falls over the very first mention of his name. You do not understand Jesus unless you understand the cross.

We need also to address the significance of the phrase “which taketh away the sin of the whole world.” Our Arminian friends will take this as a prooftext to argue for their view of the extent of the atonement. They will say that this teaches universal atonement, rather than particular redemption (limited atonement). But that is to misread this title and risk falling into the error of universal salvation. Calvin gets it right when he says that this refers to the extension of his favor “indiscriminately to the whole human race,” both Jews and Gentiles. It is not that all men are saved by the death of Christ, but all kinds of men, men from all nations, men from the whole world.

Jesus is indeed the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Scenes from CRBC's 2017 VBS

We completed another week of Vacation Bible School at CRBC, meeting Monday-Thursday (June 19-22) this week. Our Bible Study focused on the Life of Daniel (Daniel chapters 1-6). There was also time for recreation, songs, crafts, and games. Each day ended with lunch on site. Great time had by all!

Here are some scenes from the week:

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Vision (6.16.17): Grace for Grace

Image: Magnolia, Charlottesville, Virginia, June 2017.
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 1:15-18.
And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace (John 1:16).
John here declares that the fulness [pleroma] of God which rests in Christ (cf. Colossians 2:9) rests also in us. The “all” here does not mean all men without exception, but all saved men. There is a diving line between men who know, trust, and are united to Christ and those who stand outside of Christ.
Christians are the recipients of something that other men do not receive. By union with Christ they receive his fulness, and, John continues, it is “grace for grace [charin anti charitos].”
What does “grace for grace” mean?  There are at least two possibilities.
First: It may have the sense of a super-abundance of grace, of grace piled up on top of grace. Imagine stacks upon stacks of firewood. We have cord upon cord of grace in Christ. In this sense, it speaks to the grace of salvation.
Matthew Poole:
Nor have we received drops [of grace], but grace upon grace; not only knowledge and instruction, but the love and favor or God, and spiritual habits, in proportion to the favour and grace which Christ hath (allowing for our short capacities).
Matthew Henry:
Grace for grace is an abundance of grace, grace upon grace … one grace heaped on another.; as skin for skin is skin after skin, even all that a man has (Job 2:4). It is a blessing poured out, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
Second: it may have the sense of grace that is always replenished, supplied, or even replaced by even more grace. In this sense, it speaks to sustaining and sanctifying grace. The Christian never exhausts the supply of God’s grace for God’s ongoing work in his life.
Caution: We must be wise stewards of this assurance and not presume upon it to act in a lawless (antinomian) manner. Indeed, such a false path will not be continuously followed by one who is genuinely converted.
This is the great benefit that has come to sinful men through the Word becoming flesh. Grace for grace, grace upon grace, heaps of grace, a super-abundance of grace. Grace also that sustains us for the living of the Christian life through whatever challenges, whatever setbacks, whatever discouragements we might face.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book Review: Nicholas P. Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark

I have posted my book review of Nicholas P. Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20, which appears in Puritan Reformed Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2 (July 2017): 348-351 (read it here or here).

I have also posted an audio reading of the review (listen to it here).


Monday, June 12, 2017

Owen on the Pastoral Benefits of Reflection on God's Decree and Foreknowledge

From the conclusion to last Sunday afternoon’s sermon on God’s Decree and Foreknowledge (from the 1689 Baptist confession, chapter three, paragraph 2):

In 1642 John Owen wrote a treatise with the title “A Display of Arminianism” in which he responded point by point to the objections of Arminianism to the Biblical doctrine of election. The subtitle, in good Puritan fashion reads, in part: “A discovery of the old Pelagian idol free-will, with the new goddess contingency.” Thus, the Arminian idea that God’s decree is contingent or conditioned by man’s response, Owen declared to be a “new goddess,” that is, a “false goddess.”

Chapter 3 is titled “Of the prescience or foreknowledge of God, and how it is questioned and overthrown by the Arminians.” His point is that God knows all things not because he anticipates various contingencies but that he has sovereignly decreed all things.

Owen closes that chapter with a meditation on the pastoral benefits of rightly understanding God’s decree and his foreknowledge:

Amidst all our afflictions and temptations, under whose pressure we should else faint and despair, it is no small comfort to be assured that we do nor can suffer nothing but what his hand and counsel guides unto us, what is open and naked before his eyes, and whose end and issue he knoweth long before; which is a strong motive to patience, a sure anchor of hope, a firm ground of consolation (Works, Vol. 10, p. 29).

Friday, June 09, 2017

The Vision (6.9.17): And the Word Was Made Flesh

Image: Roses, June 2017, North Garden, Virginia

Note: This devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 1:14.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

John 1:14 is the most important and illuminating statement of the doctrine of the incarnation in Scripture.

It begins: “And the Word was made [ginomai: to become] flesh….” The Word here, again, is the pre-existent Logos. To say that he was made flesh is to say that he became fully a man.

Calvin, however, notes that John, under the Spirit’s prompting, specifically used the word flesh (sarx) to stress the wonder of the divine condescension. So, he writes:

He intended to show to what a mean and despicable condition the Son of God, on our account, descended from the height of his heavenly glory.


When Scripture speaks of man contemptuously, it calls him flesh…. Yet the Son of God stooped so low as to take upon himself that flesh, subject to so many miseries.

Take a moment and just touch your own flesh and consider this fabulous claim: The Word was made flesh!

There were many attempts from the earliest days to deny this declaration. We see this even in the NT itself. Compare John’s references in his epistles to “antichrists” or false teachers who denied that Jesus came “in the flesh” (1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 1:7).

In modern times, many challenges to the Christian faith come from those who deny the full deity of Christ, but in the early days the more common challenge was apparently from those who denied the full humanity of Jesus.
Aside from those who simply denied that the Word took on flesh, there were other distortions that arose in early Christianity:
Apollinarius argued that Jesus had a human body but not a human soul.
Nestorius argued that Christ was two persons in one body: He was a divine person and a human person, but not one person.
Eutyches said that he was one person but that he had only one nature and that one nature was a mixture of divine and human.
A consensus emerged and was affirmed among orthodox (right-believing Christians) that the Christ was fully a man (having both a human body and soul) and that he was one person (contra Nestorius) with two distinct natures: fully God, and fully man (contra Eutyches).
This creedal consensus is reflected in our confession of faith. See chapter 8 “Of Christ the Mediator” paragraph 2 of the 1689 Baptist Confession:
The Son of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Father's glory, of one substance and equal with Him who made the world, who upholds and governs all things He has made, did, when the fullness of time was complete, take upon Him man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities of it, yet without sin; being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit coming down upon her: and the power of the Most High overshadowing her; and so was made of a woman of the tribe of Judah, of the seed of Abraham and David according to the Scriptures; so that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion; which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.
This is likewise taught in the Baptist catechism:
Q 25: How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
A: Christ, the Son of God, became man by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul; being conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.
If we want to be faithful Christians, we have to get our understanding of Jesus right. We have to know who this one is to whom we are giving our lives and our allegiance. We honor Christ when we think rightly of Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Bible Translation Discussion

I am teaching an online Survey of the NT class this summer. At the start of the class I require students to read an article I wrote titled “A Brief Guide to English Bible Translations” [Note: The article provides an overview of various translations and provides a list of translations approved for use in the class. To reduce costs, the class is an “open source” course, so I give the students freedom to make use of their choice of translation, as long as it is not a paraphrase.]. I then have them post to a discussion board a report on what translation they plan to use for the class.

Here is a summary of the preferences reported by students in the discussion board posts from the summer 2017 class (with 30 enrolled students):

Unclear or no reply

The overall preferred translation was the KJV. For KJV users, a common reason offered for use was that this was the version the person had grown up using in their church or family. Examples:

“I will use the KJV because that is the version that I grew up with and am most familiar with.”

“My grandfather believes that the only correct version is the KJV….”

The KJV “is what I grew up using.”

            The KJV is “what I’ve used since I was younger growing up in the church.”

One said, “I’ve grown up learning from this bible.”

Another said this was “my grandmother’s bible” and it might be a good idea “to start passing [it] down to new generations.”

Some noted a preference for the KJV based on its style:

One noted the KJV is “simple and easy to understand.”

Another noted she preferred the KJV because it is the “most poetic.”

While others specifically noted they preferred a modern translation over the KJV due to style:

One noted, “it can be a little daunting and makes for exhausting reading if it’s not in plain English.”
The second most preferred translation was the NIV. Several noted this was the version they owned or regularly used. Students said:

            The NIV is “the copy [I have] at home.”

            The NIV “is the copy I have received and read … most of my life.”

One student noted he had read little of the Bible but received a copy of the NIV “as a graduation present” from his family’s church.

Another said the NIV was the version “my parents got me for Christmas.”

Some noted a preference for the NIV based on style. Comments:

            “I find the NIV much easier to follow, obey, and understand.”

            “I appreciate the simplicity in which it is written.”

Preferences for other translations were scattered. One said she was using the ESV because this was the version she had, and another noted that a new pastor in the church had just switched church usage from the KJV to the ESV. The lone NRSV user noted this had been the version used in a previous religion class.


I find these responses to be typical of those that I have received from earlier offerings of this course. These responses show that despite the prevalence of modern translations, the KJV still maintains a significant grip as the traditional text for English speakers. BTW, most of the students are younger (under age 30). When many think of the English Bible, they still think of the KJV. Among modern translations, the NIV is clearly the most widely read and preferred. Other evangelical (NKJV, ESV, etc.) or mainline Protestant (NRSV) translations register only scattered acknowledgement.

These findings suggest that Mark Twain’s quip might be well applied to the KJV: “rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” For more on this, see my related 2014 blog post on this topic.