Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Eastern Orthodoxy, the Enlightenment, and the Text of Scripture


Image: Depiction of St. Matthew, in the great lavra (monastic cell), Mt. Athos, Greece


I finally finished reading Robert Letham’s Through Western Eyes, his study of Eastern Orthodoxy from a Reformed perspective. One of the points Letham makes in his analysis concerns the different cultural and historical context in which Orthodoxy developed, as compared to the Western church. He notes, “the East had no Middle Ages, no Reformation, no Enlightenment” (p. 137).

Among other things, this has had a significant impact on the intellectual approach to the Bible and to “critical theological study” in Orthodoxy. So Letham observes:

Firstly, much Western theology and Biblical study in the past three hundred years has come out of the worldview and methodology of the Enlightenment, with its inbuilt aversion to authority, including the authority of God. The Eastern church, in contrast, has not had to contend with the Enlightenment. Flowing from this, secondly, Western critical Biblical study has been pursued mainly in an academic environment detached from the church, with the Bible considered as simply another book. The Eastern church, however, places theology (correctly, in my judgment) in the context of the church, the believing community, since the Bible was given to the church in the first place (p. 179).

He later adds, “in the West, since the Enlightenment the theological enterprise has generally been hived off to academic institutions with no connection to the church” (p. 276).

Though Letham does not address the divide between East and West on the text of the Bible, this contextual distinction likely explains why in Eastern Orthodoxy the modern-critical text  of the NT has made little headway. Rather than the academic, “Enlightenment” text, the Eastern churches have preferred the TR (NB: and not even the Majority Text!) [BTW, the OT is another story altogether, as the East follows the LXX rather the traditional Hebrew text, though this too reflects immunity to Enlightenment influences].

Can Reformed evangelicals get outside our circumstances to perceive the Enlightenment influence on the text of Scripture?


JTR

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Vision (7.21.17): And his disciples remembered


Image: Butterfly bush, Charlottesville, Virginia. July 2017

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 2:11-17.

And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up (John 2:17).

John notes here that upon reflection on Christ’s cleansing of the temple, his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house has eaten me up [consumed me].

You will find similar statements about remembering throughout John’s Gospel (see ahead 2:22). Compare John 14:26 when Jesus promises that he will send his disciples the Comforter who will “bring all things to remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).

When did these remembrances occur? We are not told. I think it was most likely after the cross and resurrection. They remembered that it was written, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” This is a citation of Psalm 69:9. Psalm 69 is one of the messianic passion psalms (like Psalm 22 and others).

It is a Psalm of David but also of Christ himself. In the midst is v. 9. John cites just part of it. The full verse reads:

Psalm 69:9 For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproaches thee are fallen upon me.

I think John is saying that in looking back at this early incident in the public ministry of Jesus during the Passover in Jerusalem they saw his zeal for the glory and honor of God the Father. But that incident would be eclipsed by an even greater expression of his zeal at a future Passover when he would lay down his life a ransom for many, when the reproaches of them that reproached God the Father fell upon him.

John’s statement in v. 17 is a reminder that most of our deepest spiritual learning comes not in the present moment of our experiences but upon later reflection. Most of our deepest spiritual learning comes through hindsight, through the rearview mirror, as it were.

Calvin observed:

And, indeed, it does not always happen that the reason of God’s works is immediately perceived by us, but afterwards, in the process of time, He makes known to us his purpose. And this is a bridle exceedingly well adapted to restrain our presumption [to murmur against God or stand in judgment of what he has allowed].

Notice also that what the disciples reflected upon was Scripture. Calvin again is helpful:

Now observe that they followed the guidance of Scripture… and indeed no man will ever learn what Christ is, or the object of what he did and suffered, unless he has been taught and guided by Scripture.

He adds: “it will be necessary that Scripture shall be the subject of our diligent and constant meditation.”


Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Church Planting Testimony


Image: Scene from the Lynchburg RB Mission, meeting on 6/18/17

Back on Sunday evening June 18, 2017, Bob Lunetta, a member of Trinity RBC in Roanoke, VA, provided a testimony of his experiences as a founding member of Emmanuel BC in Coconut Creek, Florida at a meeting of the Lynchburg Reformed Baptist Mission. I have uploaded the message to sermonaudio.com and you can listen to it here.

Bob noted five founding principles adopted by the EBC at its founding:

1. A commitment to the priority of worship, according to the Regulative Principle.

2. A commitment to Biblical church order and government.

3. A commitment to a Reformed system of doctrine, as expressed in the 1689 confession.

4. A commitment to each other.

5. A commitment to the spread of the gospel (evangelism).

I trust those who hear this testimony will be encouraged by it.

JTR

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Roman Religion


I’ve been reading classicist popularizer Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Liveright, 2015). In her discussion of Roman religion she confirms the point that Roman religion was less about personal belief and conviction and more about civic duty. Her comments:

In Rome there was no doctrine as such, no holy book and hardly even what we would call a belief system. Romans knew the gods existed; they did not believe in them in the internalized sense familiar from most modern world religions. Nor was ancient Roman religion particularly concerned with personal salvation or morality. Instead it focused more on the performance of rituals that were intended to keep the relationship between Rome and the gods in good order, and to insure Roman success and prosperity. The sacrifice of animals was a central element in most of these rituals, which otherwise were extraordinarily varied…. In general, it was a religion of doing, not believing (pp. 102-103).

Two interesting points to consider: (1) We do not even have the modern Western concept of religion as personal faith until the rise of Judaism and Christianity; and (2) Given this spiritual environment, we can see how the early Christian movement was so appealing to many when, in the providence of God, it broke onto the scene in the first century.


JTR

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Vision (7.14.17): And his disciples believed on him



Image: Butterfly bush, Charlottesville, Virginia, July 2017

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 2:1-11.

This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him (John 2:11).

This is the capstone to the account of Jesus turning water into wine. John the apostle says, “This beginning of miracles [semeion] did Jesus in Cana of Galilee…” This is the first miracle of Jesus that John records in his Gospel. We do not know whether this means this was his first public miracle or his first in this particular place. Jesus, of course, did many miraculous things in the course of his ministry that are not recorded in the Gospels (cf. John 20:30; 21:25).

Matthew’s Gospel describes Jesus healing many early in his ministry (cf. Matt 4:23-24). The first miracle Matthew specifically describes is his healing of a leper (Matt 8:1-4). The first miracle Mark’s Gospel describes is the casting out of an unclean spirit (Mark 1:23-26). In Luke’s Gospel, the first direct miracle described is also an exorcism (Luke 4:33-35).

None of the other Gospels describe the miracle of turning water into wine. We are indebted to John’s record alone for this precious memory of our Lord’s particular work on this occasion.

John says that through this miracle Christ “manifested forth his glory.” This remind us of the purpose of miracles: to manifest Christ’s glory. The purpose of any authentic miracle is to point men toward Christ and his glory.

Finally, John adds: “and his disciples believed on him.” Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathaniel were already following Jesus. Why does John tell us that they believed on him? This reminds us that discipleship is a slow but sure process.

Thus, Calvin comments on this verse:

The forbearance of Christ is great in reckoning as disciples those whose faith is so small. And indeed this doctrine extends generally to us all; for the faith which is now full grown had at first its infancy, nor is it so perfect in any as not to make it necessary that all to a man should progress in believing.

He adds:

Let those who have obtained the first-fruits of faith labor always to make progress.


Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Book Review: A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism


I have posted a spoken word version of my book review of Mark S. Gignilliat's A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism: From Benedict Spinoza to Brevard Childs (Zondervan, 2012): 84-85 (listen here). The written review appeared in American Theological Inquiry Vol. 7, No. 1 (2014): 84-85. You can read a pdf of the review here.

JTR

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Word Magazine # 78: Review: Christian Standard Bible (CSB) (2017)


I just posted WM 78: Review: Christian Standard Bible (CSB) (2017) (listen here). Below are my notes:

The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) was completed in 2003. The translation was produced by a division of LifeWay of the SBC. This year (2017) an updated edition of this translation has been released, now under the title of the Christian Standard Bible (CSB).

You can read about the CSB on its website. One page is titled: “Why the CSB?” It notes a Barna study which suggests that Bible ownership is up but Bible reading is down. The problem? They do not have a Bible “optimally translated for today’s English reader?” So, here comes the CSB to meet this gaping need!

The CSB was revised through the work of more than a hundred scholars under the supervision of a ten member translation oversight committee, with two SBC scholars (Thomas Schreiner of SBTS and David Allen of SWBTS) serving as co-chairs. Note: One might think the co-chairs would be scholars of both testaments. Schreiner is a NT scholar and Allen a professor of preaching. Is their co-chairmanship a nod to “political balance” in the SBC between Calvinists (Schreiner) and Non-Calvinists or “traditionalists” (David Allen).

Advance copies of the CSB with the full notes were distributed in the fall 2016 ETS meeting and “reading copies” were also available for those who requested them. I have a reading copy.

Among other things, the front matter indicates:

The text for the translation: For the NT, NA-28 and UBS-5. For the OT, BHS-5.

The translation philosophy: “optimal equivalency,” a supposed via media between “formal” and “dynamic” equivalency.

And, what has proved most controversial, there is a statement on the CSB’s use of “gender language.”

Controversy over “gender accurate” language:

Controversy surfaced around the time of the SBC annual meeting. See the Atlantic article by Jonathan Merritt and Garet Robinson from June 11, 2017.

Here is a table comparing some readings in the KJV, HCSB, and the CSB (emphasis added):

Passage
KJV
HCSB (2003)
CSB (2017)
Psalm 1:1
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path of sinners, or join a group of mockers!
How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers!
Psalm 8:4
What is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man that thou visitest him?
what is man that You remember him, the son of Man that you look after him?
what is a human being that you remember him, a son of man that you look after him?
Michah 6:8
He hath shewed thee, O man what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
He has told you men what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you:
Only to act justly, to love faithfulness,
and to walk humbly with your God.
Mankind, he has told each of you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you:
to act justly,
to love faithfulness,
and to walk humbly with your God.
John 1:12
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name,
But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name,
Philippians 2:7
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men
Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity
Hebrews 2:10
For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
For it was fitting, in bringing many sons to glory, that He, for whom and through whom all things exist, should make the source of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
For in bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was entirely appropriate that God—for whom and through whom all things exist—should make the source of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Hearing some of the phrasings in the CSB (despite having Michael Card as “stylist”) reminds me of T. S. Eliot’s 1962 review of the NEB, in which he described it as “an active agent of decadence.”

Questions about the text:

As substantial as questions about the “gender accuracy” of the CSB, there have also been questions raised about the textual approach of the CSB, as pointed out in an article by Peter J. Gurry which appeared on January 25, 2017 on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog. Gurry raises questions about the CSB notes on 2 Peter 3:10 and references Maurice Robinson’s questions about John 1:18 (see WM 56 on this controversial verse). Some good points are also made in the comments section. Here are a few comparison passages (emphasis added):

KJV
ESV
CSB
Jeremiah 1:9 Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold I have put my words in thy mouth.
Jeremiah 1:9 Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me,
Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
Jeremiah 1:9 Then the LORD reached out his hand, touched my mouth, and told me:
I have now filled your mouth with my words.
John 1:18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him.
2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed.

New Translation, Same Old Problems:


It seems unlikely that the CSB will gain a large market-share of the English Bible market (perhaps that is not really its goal so much as providing an in-house translation for LifeWay publications) or insure that more Bible owners will become Bible readers. That is the Spirit’s work.

JTR

Friday, July 07, 2017

The Vision (7.7.17): Christ: Our Ladder


Image: Blue hydrangea, Charlottesville, Virginia, July 2017

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 1:47-51.
And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man (John 1:51).
This is an allusion to an account from the OT from the life of Jacob when he fled from the wrath of his brother Esau and had a dream at a place he later called Bethel. Compare:
Genesis 28:12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
Jesus tells Nathaniel: The “greater things” (v. 50) that you will see is a ladder that extends between men on earth and God in heaven, and there will be messages that are going back and forth by means of that great ladder.
Jesus refers to himself here as the Son of man. This is a title that was especially preferred by Jesus when he talked of his suffering. Compare:
Mark 8:31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
We should be careful of seeking out types from the OT, but here is a type that comes with the authority of Christ himself. What does it represent? Some moment in Christ’s ministry of deep communion with God (his transfiguration? his prayerful agony in the garden?).
I think that ladder is most likely a reference to the cross work of Christ. More than that, it is the man who extended his body on the cross, who stretched out his arms upon the cross, who laid down his life upon the cross. The ladder is the Word become flesh.
Jesus tells Nathaniel that he will see something greater, and this will be the rightful basis for faith in me. It will be understanding his death on the cross for sinners and his resurrection from the dead granting life to those who believe. Discipleship is not discipleship until it unfolds the significance of the cross and the empty tomb.
Calvin comments on this verse:
In short, this passage teaches us, that though he whole human race was banished from the kingdom of God, the gate of heaven is now opened to us, so that we are fellow-citizens of the saints, and companions of angels (Eph 2:19) and that they, having been appointed to be guardians of our salvation, descend from the blessed rest of the heavenly glory to relieve our distress.
We have a ladder: He is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle