Saturday, November 25, 2017

WM 83: Ipsissima Verba or Ipsissima Vox?

Today, I recorded and posted Word Magazine # 83: Ipsissima Verba or Ipsissima Vox? You can listen here.

Here are my notes: 

In the recent Megiddo radiointerview I did with Paul Flynn on the text of the NT, he had asked me about this quote from Dan Wallace:

Scholars are not sure of the exact words of Jesus. Ancient historians were concerned to get the gist of what someone said, but not necessarily the exact wording. A comparison of parallel passages in the Synoptic Gospels reveals that the evangelists didn’t always record Jesus’ words exactly the same way. The terms ipsissima verba and ipsissima vox are used to distinguish the kinds of dominical sayings we have in the Gospels. The former means ‘the very words,’ and the latter means ‘the very voice.’ That is, the exact words or the essential thought. There have been attempts to harmonize these accounts, but they are highly motivated by a theological agenda which clouds one’s judgment and skews the facts. In truth, though red-letter editions of the Bible may give comfort to believers that they have the very words of Jesus in every instance, this is a false comfort. -Daniel B. Wallace

I’ve been wanting to do a follow up response to this idea of the verba/vox distinction and related issues, like whether Jesus spoke Greek or only Aramaic.

So, I want to look at four sources I’ve recently reviewed on these topics, along with some final thoughts conclusions on how believers are to understand the use of modern historical-critical methodology in Biblical criticism.

First: Irving Hexham, Understanding World Religions: An Interdisciplinary Approach (Zondervan, 2011).

A few weeks ago, I noted Irving Hexham’s questions about whether Jesus spoke Aramaic or Greek. See my post here. Hexham suggests that the consensus among modern NT scholars that Jesus spoke Aramaic rather than Greek only came about in the eighteenth century with the rise of source criticism and subtly undermined the traditional view that the Gospels faithfully recorded the exact words of Jesus.  

Second: Paul D. Feinberg, “The Meaning of Inerrancy,” in Norman L. Geiser, Ed. Inerrancy (Zondervan, 1980): 267-304; esp. 301.

This book comes from the evangelical “Battle for the Bible” period. It was written to defend inerrancy against its liberal despisers. In Feinberg’s article he attempts to define inerrancy in such a way that it might remain compatible with the challenges of the modern historical critical method.

Of note is his specific discussion about whether the Gospels record the ipsissima verba (the very words) or the ipsissima vox (the very voice) of Jesus.

Feinberg notes: “Inerrancy does not demand that the Logia Jesu (the sayings of Jesus) contain the ipsissima verba (the exact words) of Jesus, only the ipsissima vox (the exact voice)” (301). He adds:

When a New Testament writer cites the sayings of Jesus, it need not be that Jesus said those exact words. Undoubtedly, the exact words of Jesus are to be found in the New Testament, but they need not be so in every instance.

Feinberg gives two reasons for his argument. First, he says “many of the sayings were spoken by our Lord in Aramaic and therefore had to be translated into Greek.” Second, he suggests that it is impossible which of the sayings are “direct quotes, which are indirect discourse, and which are freer renderings.”

My guess, however, is that most faithful, ordinary Christians (untrained in modern historical criticism) will be puzzled by this viewpoint for two reasons. First, they likely expect that the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels are, just that, his words, and not merely a close approximation of them. Second, they assume that distinctions between direct and indirect discourse are no harder to discern in the Greek of the New Testament than in English (or any other coherent language). So, for example, when they read John 5:8: “Jesus said unto him [i.e., the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda], Rise, take up thy bed, and walk,” they assume that this is a direct quotation, recording not merely an approximation of Jesus’ words but his exact words. If he originally spoke those words in Greek, and not Aramaic, it would, of course, require no translation.

Feinberg’s analysis appears not to be aimed at that ordinary Christian reader but at the skeptic who is eager to find errors or inconsistencies in the Biblical text. He believes that by surrendering a vigorous defense of the Logia Jesu in the Gospels as Christ’s precise words, in favor of a more nuanced suggestion that such sayings might only be free renderings by the Evangelists, he has safeguarded the Scriptures against charges of errancy. But has he conceded too much? Does this not buttress the skeptic’s view that the Gospels provide an often creative and inventive account of Jesus’ life and ministry as opposed to a meticulously accurate record of his words and deeds?

Furthermore, does Feinberg’s approach neglect the supernatural aspect of the faithful transmission of Scripture? Its accuracy does not, in the end, depend on the care or skill of the penmen but on the faithfulness of the God who directed them. Consider Christ’s promise to his disciples: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).

Third: Darrell Bock, “The Words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive, or Memorex?” in Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland, Eds., Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Zondervan, 1995): 73-99.

This essay appears in a volume dedicated to defending the reliability of the NT Gospels over against the hyper-skepticism of the Jesus Seminar. As with Feinberg, however, one wonders if the author does not concede too much to the Bible’s despisers.

Bock suggests three points on a spectrum of understanding Christ’s words in the Gospels: live, jive, and Memorex. The “Memorex view” would be that of the traditionalists who assume that the words recorded in the Gospels are the exact words spoken. Bock rejects this view, however, stating, “It is possible to have historical truth without always resorting to explicit citation” (75). The “jive view” would be that the Jesus Seminar, which holds that the Gospel writers had maximal freedom in inventing or creating the recorded words. The mediating position which Bock champions is the “live” option, suggesting:

This is what the “live” approach is all about. Each evangelist retells the living and powerful words of Jesus in a fresh way for his readers, while faithfully and accurately presenting the “gist” of what Jesus said. I call this approach one that recognizes the Jesus tradition as “live” in its dynamic and quality (77).

Bock then follows Feinberg by insisting on a distinction between ipsissima verba and ispissima vox.  He cites one “universally recognized reality” as making the verba/vox distinction necessary: “that Jesus probably gave most of his teaching in Aramaic” while the Gospels were written in Greek, adding, “In other words, most of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels is already a translation” (77). So, Bock concedes: “Since a translation is already present in much of the tradition, we do not have ‘his very words’ in the strictest sense of the term” (77). The best Bock can say is that the Gospels “give us the true gist of his teaching and the central thrust of his message” (78).

Bock defends this view as in keeping with (1) the practices of Greco-Roman historiography; (2) the oral Jewish culture of remembering; and (3) the nature of historical writing. Regarding the third point, Bock notes: “History is not a static entity” (81).

Again, it seems unlikely that the faithful Christian reader will necessarily share these assumptions. Whatever the ordinary practices of secular Greek, Roman, or Jewish authors or the customary vagaries of ancient or modern history, the believing reader sees the Bible as an extra-ordinary work. Why then, under the Spirit’s direction, should it not faithfully record the very words of Jesus?

Note: When one reviews the examples cited by Bock one notices how thin are the actual citations of perceived variances in the words of Jesus among the Gospels (see pp. 84-89).

Bocks gives attention to variances in the order of the temptations in the temptation narratives, perceived differences in narrative sequencing in the Synoptic Gospels, detail differences in Synoptic parallels, and differences in verbal citations (like the Father’s voice at Jesus’ baptism or Peter’s confession).

When it comes to specific words from Jesus, Bock only cites two examples: (1) Jesus’ question to the disciples at Caesarea Philippi (p. 86); and (2) Jesus’ teaching on the coming of the Son of Man (p. 88).

Bock concludes: “The Gospels are summaries of the teaching of Jesus,” giving the “gist” but not the exact words (89).

This modern, evangelical approach was not, however, the one taken by pre-critical interpreters, who could acknowledge slight variations in the Gospels accounts while still affirming the full reliability of the Gospels in accurately recording Christ’s precise words (and those of others). How did they do this? By making reasonable harmonizations, often assuming that one Gospel writer might have recorded what Jesus (or another figure) said on one occasion or moment while another Gospel writer recorded what he said on another occasion or in another moment, thus explaining the occasional differences in wording. A report of Christ’s words might then be precise but only partial without assuming that the Evangelist had creatively summarized Christ’s words.

Fourth: Robert L. Thomas, “Impact of Historical Criticism on Theology and Apologetics,” in Robert L. Thomas and F. David Farnell, Eds., The Jesus Crisis: The Inroads of Historical Criticism Into Evangelical Scholarship (Kregel, 1998): 356-377, especially 367-372.

Thomas challenges the evangelical embrace of the verba/vox distinction. According to Thomas, this move “now has the evangelical world wondering what words Jesus spoke. The general impact of that field of scholarship has been on the side of assuming the gospel writers never reported His exact words or the ipsissima verba—the very words—of the Lord” (367).

While conceding that Jesus’ speeches in the Gospels are shorter than the original speeches, Thomas argues that this does not mean that the words which are recorded in the Gospels are not Christ’s exact words.

Thomas offers a direct challenge to Bock, in particular, including his assumption that Jesus spoke only in Aramaic and this had to be translated into Greek. He notes a “growing realization among contemporary scholars” recognizing “the wide use of Greek among the Jews of Jesus’ day,” adding, “The assumption that Jesus never spoke Greek is certainly unfounded” (368).

Thomas thinks it highly likely that the followers of Jesus would have written down and accurately memorized Jesus’ exact words. Regarding the differences in the Synoptic Gospels, Thomas reflects:

If the Gospels do contain the very words of Jesus, what is one to make of their disagreement in wording when recording the same discourse or conversation? The fact that no single gospel records everything spoken on a given occasion furnishes an adequate response to that challenge. It is probable, in fact, that no combination of parallel accounts records the entirety of a speech or dialogue. Christ undoubtedly repeated some of His teachings with slightly differing wording on different occasions. He very probably did so on the same occasion too. So instances where parallel accounts report the same substance in slightly different forms may easily be traceable to different but similar statements on the same occasion, with each writer selecting for his account only a part of what was said (369).

Thomas’ view here reflects that held by the pre-critical interpreters.

He likewise notes the special nature of the Bible as a Holy Spirit inspired work:

Another factor overlooked by evangelicals in the whole issue of literary independence versus interdependence is the role of the Holy Spirit in enabling the memories of the eyewitnesses of Christ’s life….

The Spirit’s work in reminding and inspiring is a supernatural work, guaranteeing a degree of accuracy and precision that is without parallel in the annals of human historiography (372).

Concluding Reflections:

In conclusion, let me share some insights from Alvin Plantinga’s Knowledge and Christian Belief (Eerdmans, 2015). This is a simplified and popular version of his Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford, 2000).

Plantinga argues in that book that there is warrant or justification for Christian belief (i.e., that it is not necessarily irrational to hold Christian beliefs). At the conclusion of that book he addresses three “defeaters” (arguments against his thesis). The three are challenges based on Historical Biblical Criticism; Pluralism; and Evil.

For the purposes of this discussion, I thought his comments on Historical Biblical Criticism (HBC) are worth sharing. Plantinga writes:

So HBC has not in general been sympathetic to traditional Christian belief; it has hardly been an encouragement to the faithful. The faithful, however, seem relatively unconcerned; they find traditional biblical commentary of great interest and importance, but the beliefs and attitudes of HBC have not seemed to filter down to them, in spite of its dominance in mainline seminaries. According to Van Harvey, “Despite decades of research, the average person tends to think of the life of Jesus in much the same terms as Christians did three centuries ago” [“New Testament Scholarship,” p. 194]. One possible reason is that there is no compelling or even reasonably decent argument for supposing that the procedures and assumptions of HBC are to be preferred, by Christians, to those of traditional Biblical commentary. A little epistemological reflection enables us to see something further: the traditional Christian has good reason to reject the skeptical claims of HBC and continue to hold traditional Christian belief despite the allegedly corrosive acids of HBC (103).

I think Plantinga gets it very right here. Modern evangelical scholars have embraced and accommodated the modern historical-critical method to their reading of the Bible (in this case the Gospels) in an effort to defend the faith against objections. The problem is that these are not objections raised by the faithful but by unbelieving skeptics. The faithful, in fact, find the “new” interpretations unconvincing, at best, and undermining the faith, at worst.

So, what can we conclude?

Jesus spoke Aramaic. That is clear from the Gospel quotations of his Aramaic speech. But it is not unreasonable to assume that he also spoke Greek and that the Gospel writers faithfully recorded his words in Greek. Not only did they rely on accurate written accounts and carefully preserved memories, but the Holy Spirit enabled faithful remembering (John 14:26). Agreements in the Gospel record do not have to explained through complex literary dependence theories. Any discrepancies in the account of speech from Jesus or other figures can also be reasonably explained through harmonization (e.g., distinctions between direct and indirect discourse, repetitions, partial citations, etc.) without abandoning confidence in the Gospels as faithfully preserving the ipsissima verba, which is essentially the default understanding of ordinary believing readers who have not been exposed to higher criticism.


Friday, November 24, 2017

The Vision (11.24.17): They that hear shall live

Image: Thanksgiving meal at the Riddles, North Garden, Virginia. November 23, 2017

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 5:25-30.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live (John 5:25).

Jesus announces, “The hour is coming, and now is.” He is declaring here a present reality. Something new has happened. Something new has arrived. Jesus then describes this present reality: “when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.”

This presents one of the greatest and most compelling images for regeneration or conversion in Scripture. It is like passing from death to life (cf. v. 24b).

Compare Jesus’ parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son, when the Father declares: “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found....” (Luke 15:24).

Compare Paul’s words in Ephesians:

Ephesians 2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
This is not the hospital analogy but the morgue analogy! Its origins are in the teaching of Christ himself. Dead men do not do anything for themselves. You can hold out a million dollars to a corpse all day long, and he’ll never reach out a hand to take it. Offer him the keys to a brand-new sports car or tickets to the big game or the most appetizing meal, and he’ll never reach out a hand to take it. So it is when we offer Christ to spiritually dead men, unless Christ is first pleased to quicken them.
What is the mechanism or catalysis that breaks through the deadness and brings life? It is the voice of Christ: The hour has come “when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God.” Jesus will later say, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
Here Jesus adds, “They that hear shall live.” This is a description of what we call the effectual or efficient call. There are two types of hearing: hearing with the ears (external hearing) and hearing with the heart (internal hearing). Christ’s disciples are those who hear not only with the ear but with the heart.
One might say that this was much easier for John and Peter and the first disciples. They could hear Christ’s voice directly while he was here on the earth. But how is Christ heard today? Through the reading of his Word and through ordinary preaching and teaching. Paul said, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).
Have you heard the voice of your Shepherd and has he been pleased to quicken you, to move you to pass over from spiritual death to spiritual life?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Vision (11.17.17): All men should honor the Son

Image: Berries, North Garden, Virginia, November 2017.

Note: Devotion take from last Sunday's sermon on John 5:15-24.

John 5:22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgement unto the Son: 23 That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.

In vv. 22-23 Jesus turns to the issue of judgment. He notes that the Father has given the task of judgment to the Son (v. 22; cf. John 3:16-17, 35-36).

The Father has so decreed that all men should honor the Son even as they honor him (v. 23a). He adds: “He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which sent him” (v. 23b).

This is a declaration that Jesus Christ is the dividing line for all humanity. There are only two types of men, not Jew and Gentile, not male or female, not high or low, but those who honor the Son and those who do not honor the Son (cf. Matthew 10:32-33).

Jesus says that the Son of God must receive the same honor as does the Father. One cannot say I believe in God the Father, but I do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. No one comes to the Father but by him (John 14:6). This has been called the scandal of particularity. If you take this scandal away, you are rejecting what Jesus himself taught!

Calvin says on this passage:

[Muslims] and Jews do indeed adorn with beautiful and magnificent titles the God whom they worship; but we ought to remember that the name of God when it is separated from Christ, is nothing but a vain imagination. Whoever then desires to have his worship approved by the true God, let him not turn aside from Christ.

Let us then honor the Son, as we honor the one who sent him.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Gleanings from Plantinga's Knowledge and Christian Belief

I’ve been reading Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s Knowledge and Christian Belief (Eerdmans, 2015) this week. This is the popular level version of Plantinga’s influential (and more technical) Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford, 2000).

A few gleanings:

Plantinga argues that moral categories do not necessarily apply to beliefs. He gives this illustration:

If I fell out of an airplane at 3,000 feet, I would fall down not up; and it wouldn’t be up to me which way I fell… my falling down isn’t something that can be morally evaluated. I can’t sensibly be either praised or blamed for falling down.

He concludes:

And isn’t the same thing true for religious belief? I am a theist; I believe that there is such a person as God; but I have never decided to hold this belief. It has always just seemed to me to be true. And it isn’t as if I could rid myself of this belief just by an act of the will (17).

He later connects this to Calvin’s notion of the sensus divinitatis, or sense of divinity, which is “subject to malfunction” (33).

After reviewing Freud’s rejection of theism as “wish-fulfillment,” Plantinga turns the argument on its head:

Indeed, unbelief can also be seen as resulting from wish-fulfillment—a result of the desire to live in a world without God, a world in which there is no one to whom I owe worship and obedience (44).


Monday, November 13, 2017

John Cosin on Chronicles as "a perfect epitome of all the Old Testament"

In Robert Haldane’s The Books of the Old and New Testaments Proven to be Canonical (1830), he discusses the threefold division of the Hebrew Bible, noting that it traditionally ended with the Chronicles.

On this he cites the observation of John Cosin (1594-1672) in A Scholastical History of the Canon (1672):

Which last Book of the Chronicles, containing the sum of all their former histories, and reaching from the creation of the world to their return from Babylon, is a perfect epitome of all the Old Testament, and therefore not unfitly so placed by them, as it concluded and closed up their whole BIBLE.

It is indeed noteworthy that 1 Chronicles begins with reference to the line of Adam (1 Chronicles 1:1) and ends with the edict of Cyrus, resulting in the restoration (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). It is an epitome of the entire OT.

Why then, in the Christian ordering of the OT does Malachi appear last and not 1-2 Chronicles? Perhaps this stems from a tradition that held Malachi to be last of the prophets. Certainly the ending of Malachi (4:5-6) with its reference to the sending of Elijah “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD” made sense as the perfect segue to Matthew’s account of Christ and John as his Elijah-like forerunner (see Matthew chapters 1-3 and especially Matt 11:14; contrast, however, John 1:21). So Chronicles was the fitting ending for the Hebrew Bible but Malachi for the Christian OT.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Word Magazine 82: Review: Karl Barth and Evangelicals

Yesterday I recorded WM 82: Review: Karl Barth and Evangelicals (listen here). In this episode I offer a review and some responses to Mark Galli's new book: Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals (Eerdmans. 2017). Mark Galli is editor of Christianity Today. He provides a sympathetic review of Barth's life and thought. One of the more controversial aspects of Barth's life raised in the book concerns the nature of his relationship with his assistant Charlotte von Kirschbaum.

Image: Barth and von Kirschbaum

I have completed a written review of the book, which provided the ground for this audio review. Here is the last paragraph of the written review:

In the closing chapter of this engaging overview of Barth’s life and thought, Galli raises an interesting justification for Barth’s value for modern evangelicals. He notes that Barth’s theology made waves in the early twentieth century, because he challenged the Protestant liberalism of his day, epitomized in the theology of Schleiermacher (and his stress on feelings and experience) and Ritschl (and his stress on morality and ethics). What one finds today, says Galli, is “liberal” evangelicalism. “New evangelicalism” is just “a reincarnation of the theology of Schleiermacher” (141). So, Galli, concludes, Barth offers modern evangelicals “a theology that can prevent feeling and ethics from taking over and sabotaging the church’s mission” (146). I believe that Galli is largely on target in his suggestion of parallels between contemporary broad evangelicals and last generation’s Protestant liberalism. Where I would take exception would be in his suggestion that Barth’s theology is the proper treatment for what ails evangelicals. Rather than Barth, how about a dose of John Calvin or John Owen?


Friday, November 10, 2017

The Vision (11/10/17): A Secret Movement of Faith

Image: Fall scene, North Garden, Virginia, November 2017

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 5:1-14.

Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee (John 5:14).

With v. 14 we have Christ’s second meeting with the “impotent” man whom he healed at the pool of Bethesda. This meeting occurs in the temple. Here is yet another example in John of a process of spiritual transformation. It often takes more than one encounter with Christ for real transformation to occur.

Calvin suggests some “secret movement of faith” in this man’s life. Even after he was physically healed, the man did not know his Physician (cf. v. 13: “And he that was healed wist [knew] not who it was…”). Calvin adds:

Again, in the person of this man it is important for us to observe with what gentleness and condescension the Lord bears with us.

Indeed, the roots of vices are too deep in us to be capable of being torn out in a single day, or in a few days; and the cure of the diseases of the soul is too difficult to be affected by remedies applied for a short time.

We have a snippet of their conversation here in v. 14. Notice three things:

First, Christ declares the man’s full physical healing: “Behold, thou art made whole.”

Second, he demands spiritual renovation: “sin no more.” Compare his words later to the adulteress (John 8:11: “Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more.”). Clearly, Jesus’s concern is not merely with the man’s physical restoration. This is where the social gospel crowd goes astray. Jesus would not merely save a man’s body and neglect his soul.

Finally, notice that he also warns the man of God’s wrath, lest he repent: “lest a worse thing come unto thee.”

There are worse things than being physically disabled. There are worse things than suffering with some malady for 38 years, even if it covers all 38 years of one’s existence upon earth. Think of the thing that brings you the most temporal vexation. Remember that there are worse things than that.

The worst thing is to fail to repent one one’s sin and to trust in Christ and to face the just wrath of a holy God. But Christ is patient, and he meets with men more than once to awaken spiritual life in those who would believe.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Calvin on the angel stirring the water during an age of cessation (John 5:3b-4)

I preached last Sunday on the opening of John 5, the healing of the impotent man at Bethesda (vv. 1-16). In his commentary on this passage, Calvin does not acknowledge the textual difficulties of vv. 3b-4 relating to the angel coming down to stir the waters. Instead, he simply accepts this passage as part of the undisputed text. He does, however, provide an intriguing explanation for the unusual circumstances, interpreting the strange stirring of the water in the pool of Bethesda as an unusual demonstration of the Lord’s intervention into earthly affairs during a time when the prophetic spirit had largely been withdrawn. So, Calvin observes:

But about the time of Christ’s coming, as they were deprived of the Prophets, and their condition was very wretched, and as various temptations pressed upon them on every hand, they needed this extraordinary aid, that they might not think that God had entirely left them, and thus might be discouraged and fall away. For we know that Malachi was the last of the Prophets, and, therefore, he closes his doctrine with this admonition, that the Jews may remember the law delivered by Moses (Malachi 4:4) until Christ appear. God saw it to be advantageous to deprive them of the Prophets, and to keep them in suspense for a time, that they might be inflamed, with a stronger desire for Christ, and might receive him with greater reverence, when he should be manifested to him.

I was intrigued by this statement with regard to recent thoughts on canon. Calvin and other Reformers reject the apocrypha, in part, because they did not see it as emerging during an age of active prophesy. This was the first of William Whitaker’s three arguments against the inspiration, and thus the canonicity, of the apocryphal books in his Disputation (see pp. 49-54; the second argument being that that these books were not accepted as canonical by the Jews, and the third that their content was non-canonical [uninspired]). Calvin sees the time between the last OT Prophet (which he takes to be Malachi) and the coming of Christ as a “dead zone” with regard to the activity of the prophetic spirit. Again, the test of canonicity for any book is not the decision of the church but the inspiration of the Spirit.


Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Did the church choose the canon?

I recently read Archbishop Paul of Finland’s booklet The Faith We Hold (St. Vladimir Press, 1978), which offers a basic introduction to Eastern Orthodoxy. In an opening chapter on “The Sources of Doctrine” he writes the following:

Why is the church given priority as the subject of the first chapter in this book? Because the Church came into being first, and only afterwards, little by little, did the books of the NT, the Gospels and Epistles, appear….

The prime importance of Tradition is plainly shown by the fact that it was not until the fifth century that the Church established conclusively which books in circulation should be regarded as genuinely inspired by God’s revelation. Thus, the Church itself determined the composition of the Bible….

It is our belief that the Bible by itself, without the Tradition as its living interpreter, is insufficient as a source of truth (pp. 18-19).

I used that quote in my conference message on canon at Redeeming Grace to illustrate the Orthodox view on the authority of Scripture.

The contrasting Protestant position is well articulated by the Puritan William Whitaker in his 1588 book A Disputation on Holy Scripture:

The Scripture is autopistos [self-authenticating] that is, hath all its authority and credit from itself; is to be acknowledged, is to be received, not only because the church hath so determined and commanded, but because it comes from God, not by the church, but by the Holy Ghost (pp. 279-280).

For Protestants, it is not the church who chooses the canon. Rather, it is best to say that the church acknowledges or recognizes the self-authenticating canon of Scriptures as being the inspired Word of God.


Monday, November 06, 2017

Canon Conference Message on Jeremiah 36

I've posted the audio for the sermon I preached on Sunday, October 29, 2017 at the "Canon and Reformation" Conference at Redeeming Grace Church in Matthews, Virginia. The message gives an exposition of Jeremiah 36. You can find it here.


Friday, November 03, 2017

Word Magazine 81: Modern Challenges to Canon

Image: Pastor Van Loomis speaking to the congregation of Redeeming Grace, Matthews, Virginia, following lunch last Sunday, 10/29/17.

I have uploaded WM 81: Modern Challenges to Canon (find it here).

I spoke at a Reformation Conference at Redeeming Grace Church in Matthews, Virginia last Saturday-Sunday, October 29-30, 2017. The conference included two sessions on Saturday evening and one session on Sunday morning:

Session 1: The Canon of Scripture

Session 2: The Reformation and Canon

Session 3: Modern Challenges to Canon

The first two sessions were not recorded. The third session, however, was recorded and the audio is included in WM 81. In this lecture, I trace five areas of modern challenge to canon in the following areas: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Modern "Pop" Skepticism; Modern Academics; and within Evangelicalism itself.


The Vision (11.3.17): Canon and Inspiration

Image: St. Paul Writing His Epistles, by Valentin de Bolougne, c. 1618.

Note: I spoke in a Reformation Conference last weekend at Redeeming Grace Church in Matthews, VA. The topic was the canon of Scripture. Here are some of my notes from the opening conference message, noting the connection between canon and inspiration.

The definition of canon is vitally linked to the doctrine of inspiration. The classic prooftext for the doctrine of inspiration is found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:16:  All scripture is given by inspiration of God [theopneustos], and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

The books that make up the canon of Christian Scripture are inspired books, God-breathed books. This is the fundamental quality which they possess which distinguishes them from all other uninspired writings, including those that might be spiritually profitable. The Scriptures are autopistos [self-authenticating], because they are God-breathed.

Given this reality, it would be accurate to say that the canon of Scripture was completed and became closed when the last inspired book was written, perhaps the book of Revelation, around AD 90. This was the culmination of a process that had begun some 1500 years before when Moses composed the Pentateuch. It would also be appropriate to say that this canon has existed since its completion, even in times when it has not been properly recognized and acknowledged by God’s people.

It is sometimes said both by skeptics and, interestingly enough, also within some Christian traditions (Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy) that the church chose the Scriptures.  We believe it is more biblically faithful to say that the church did not choose the canon, but that it acknowledged or recognized it for what it is in essence: the God-breathed, inscripturated Word. In fact, it is also more historically reliable to take this position as well, given that we must conclude that the recognition or acknowledgement of the canon of Christian Scripture did not come about from the top-down, through conciliar decisions, but from the bottom-up through the organic usage of God’s people.

How is it that God’s people are able to recognize these inspired, canonical books as the Word of God and to distinguish them from uninspired works? It is a spiritual process that defies any simple, naturalistic explanation. First, we acknowledge, again, that the inspired Scriptures are breathed out by the Holy Spirit of God. As Peter puts it, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). Second, believers have been regenerated by this same Holy Spirit who then indwells them (cf. Romans 8:8-11). Thus, Paul can conclude, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9). Positively, he can also affirm that the Spirit of God “beareth witness” with the spirit of the believer (Romans 8:16).

How, then, is it that a believer recognizes the Word of God? The Spirit of God which is in him resonates with the Spirit of God which is in the Scriptures. This is the way Jesus himself describes this phenomenon in John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Christians recognize in the inspired, canonical Scriptures, the voice of their Shepherd.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Poh Boon Sing on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

Pastor Poh Boon Sing has posted an insightful article on the Gospel Highway website, marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, celebrated by many this week. Here's the opening to the article and a link to the whole (below):

It is safe to claim that the Reformation of the 16th century in Europe has impacted the world, directly and indirectly, for good. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. How should it be rightly celebrated?
I. What was the Reformation?

On 31 October 1517 Martin Luther nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The event sparked of a spiritual movement that spontaneously spread across the nations, and continues to reverberate down the centuries. The Reformation was a work of the Holy Spirit, a true revival, and the mother of all subsequent revivals. Luther was the instrument used by God to start off the Reformation. He was a Roman Catholic monk and theologian who had been much exercised over the superstitious beliefs and practices propagated by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Ninety-Five Theses consisted of propositions of biblical truths, contrasted with the false teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, that were put to the public for debate. It began with the claim that repentance from sin, shown by a changed life, is essential to the Christian life. The Pope has no power to save. The buying of indulgences — i.e. certificates pronouncing remission of sins — from the church cannot give salvation. The Ninety-Five Theses ends by urging Christians to follow Christ, whose death on the cross alone saves. Although the Ninety-Five Theses does not explicitly mention “justification by faith”, this doctrine lies at the base of Luther’s experience of salvation and was the spur to his action on that fateful day.
The fire of Reformation burned in the hearts of the people who discovered salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ, alone. The teaching of Martin Luther spread throughout Europe. Luther, now excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church, founded his own congregations. Other men were raised up by God to strengthen the cause of the Reformation. John Calvin escaped France and settled in Geneva to preach there. His “Institutes of the Christian Religion” helped to consolidate the teaching of the Reformation. Other notable Reformers included William Farel, Martin Bucer, Philipp Melanchthon, and Heinrich Bullinger. John Knox brought the Reformation to Scotland. From the 16th century, a band of preachers arose in Britain who preached the truths of the Reformation. They have been called the Puritans — also dubbed the second-generation Reformers. Various Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed Baptist, and Reformed churches of today would own the Reformers as their spiritual forefathers, and the Reformation as their historical root.
To continue reading the full entire article look here.

Update: With Pastor Poh's permission I also recorded an audio version of the article to You can listen to it here. I also uploaded a pdf of the article. You can read it here.