Friday, December 29, 2017

WM 86: Review: Pickering's Greek NT and English Translation

Image: Wilbur N. Pickering

Today I recorded and posted WM 86: Review: Pickering's Greek NT and English Translation (listen here). This episode has a review of the following two works:

Wilbur N. Pickering, The Sovereign Creator Has Spoken: Objective Authority for Living: New Testament with Commentary (2013).

Image: The two works under review in WM 86

Image: Here are the three modern printed editions of the Majority (Byzantine) Text: Hodges-Farstad (1985); Robinson-Pierpont (2005); Pickering (2015)

Here are my notes from this episode:


This is a review of two recent publications from Majority Text advocate Wilbur Pickering.

The first is his edition of the Greek NT (The Greek New Testament According to Family 35) and the second is his translation of this text (The Sovereign Creator Has Spoken).

Note: Both these works and others by Pickering are available to order in hard copy on Amazon or can be accessed for free online at (look here).

Who is Wilbur Pickering?

The forward to Sovereign Creator offers a sketch of the author:

Wilbur N. Pickering is a Christian missionary living near Brasilia, Brazil. He has a ThM and a PhD in Linguistics. Of those actively involved in NT textual criticism, no one holds a more radical view in defense of the inerrancy and objective authority of the Sacred Text. This includes the position that the precise original wording has been preserved to our day and that we can know what it is.

Dr. Pickering joined Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1958. After three years of preparation for the field, he arrived in Brazil in 1961, where he and his wife began the translation work with the Apurinã people. In 1996 he resigned from Wycliffe to pursue other interests.

For some time Dr. Pickering has felt that among the many hundreds of Greek manuscripts known to exist today, surely God would have preserved the original wording. After years of searching and comparing Greek NT manuscripts, he has concluded that God used a certain transmission to preserve that wording. That line is by far the largest and most cohesive of all manuscript groups, or families. It is distinguished from all other groups by the high level of care with which is was copied (Dr. Pickering holds copies of perfect manuscripts for 22 of the 27 books). It is both ancient and independent, and is the only one with a demonstrable archetypal form in all 27 books. That archetypal form has been empirically, objectively identified by a wide comparison of family representatives, and it is indeed error free. As he expected that error-free text is not seriously different from some other “good” Greek texts. Nevertheless he has done an English translation based on it.

Pickering is perhaps best known for his work The Identity of the New Testament Text (first published by Thomas Nelson, 1977) [hereafter INTT]. The author’s blurb mentions that he had at the time a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary and was a PhD candidate in Linguistics at the University of Toronto. The forward is written by Zane C. Hodges. In this work Pickering offers a critique of Wescott and Hort and the modern eclectic text and advocates in favor of the Majority or Byzantine text.

Pickering has revised and added to this work over the years. I have a copy of The Identity of the New Testament Text II, Third Edition (Wipf and Stock, 2003). The most recent edition is The Identity of the New Testament Text IV and is available for free online (see here). He concludes in this edition that the text of the NT has never been lost but has been preserved in the Byzantine manuscripts known as family 35 which he claims to be able to trace to the third century (pp. 131-132).

The Greek New Testament According to Family 35, Second Edition (2015):

We can divide the work into three parts: (1) Introductory material; (2) The NT text and apparatus; (3) Appendices.

(1)  Introductory material:

The work includes this explanation on the title page:

The only significant line of transmission, both ancient and independent, that has demonstrable archetypal form in all 27 books; plus a totally new critical apparatus that gives a percentage of manuscript attestation to the variant readings, and that includes six competing published editions.

It notes that this is the second edition but does not give the date for the first edition.

Table of contents: It follows the traditional order but lists Hebrews with the Pauline Epistles, rather than the General Epistles.

Preface (pp. i-iii): Pickering begins by noting his doubts about the reliability of Hermann von Soden’s Greek NT (1911-1913), which underlies the Hodges-Farstad and Robinson-Pierpont editions of the Majority (Byzantine) Text. He notes that his edition relies on the “segment” known as Family 35 (f35), “because cursive 35 is the complete New Testament, faithful to the family archetype, with the smallest number” (i). Manuscript 18 would be the family name, but it “defects from the family in Revelation.” For his preference for Family 35, he refers readers to INTT IV, noting “I there argue that God has preserved the precise original wording of the NT, and that we can, and do, know what it is, based on an empirical procedure” (ii).

He provides an explanation of the apparatus, noting that each variant offers a percentage of ms. attestation in parentheses () for evidence taken from Text und Textwurt, edited by Kurt Aland and bracket [] for evidence taken from “a variety of sources” (ii).

He notes that he determined the reading in his text for each book from at least 20 f35 mss (and usually over 30-40). He notes that since these come from all over the Mediterranean world “the chances that they do not represent the main line of transmission are, quite frankly, nil. So here you have the archetypal Text of f35, beyond reasonable question” (ii).

The apparatus also includes comparison to six published editions:

RP: Robinson-Pierpont (2005)
HF: Hodges-Farstad
OC: text of the Orthodox Church
TR: Textus Receptus
CP: Complutension Polyglot
NU: Nestle-Aland 26/UBS 3

He notes that this new edition of the Majority/Byzantine text justifies its existence, since it holds over a thousand differences from either the HF or RP editions. He affirms his belief in inerrancy and states in a footnote: “I venture to affirm to the reader that all original wording of the NT is preserved in this edition, if not in the Text, at least in the apparatus” (ii, n. 4).

The punctuation is the same as English, except for the use of the raised dot in place of the semi-colon (so as not to be confused with the question mark).

As an “arbitrary decision” individually cited mss. come from the fifth century or earlier. The apparatus also does not include lectionary, patristic, or versional evidence (see iii, n. 3). Compare the THGNT.

(2)  The NT text and apparatus:

On formatting:

The Greek text has English paragraph headings. Major units (not always corresponding to chapter divisions) are in larger, plain font with smaller sub-units in smaller, italic font.

Many of these includes dates for events in the life of Jesus. Examples: It gives the birthdate for Jesus as 4 BC (Matt 2:1); Jesus’ ministry at Capernaum as 27 AD (Matt 4:12); Jesus’ ministry in Perea as 29/30 AD (Matt 19:1); the triumphal entry as Sunday 3/31/30 AD (Matt 21:1); etc. Though these dates are possible, they are speculative.

There are some unusual English translation spellings in these paragraph headings (like “Natsareth” for “Nazareth”; cf. Matt 2:19, and ff.).

Quotation marks are used for OT citations and for direct speech.

Some specific texts and notes:

Matthew 16:13b: It includes the doxology, noting it is in f35 and codex W and with a (97.6%) reading.

Notes on ending of Matthew (28:20):

Note 7, p. 87 observes that 50% of the colophons for the f35 mss. read “published eight years after the ascension of Christ.” Pickering suggests, “this probably means that the tradition is ancient.” He adds:

If this information is correct, then Matthew was “published” in 38/39 AD. The same sources have Mark published two years later (40/41) and Luke another five years later (45/46), while John was “published” thirty-two years after the ascension, or 61/62 AD. Not only were the authors eyewitnesses of the events, but many others were still alive when the Gospels appeared. They could attest to the veracity of the accounts, but could also be the source of textual variants, adding tidbits here and there, or ‘correcting’ something that they remembered differently.

Note 8, p. 87 notes that the text of Matthew is based on 31 representative mss. from f35. It lists ms. 2554 as a “perfect” representative of f35 in Matthew, adding that the “uniformity [of the mss.] is impressive.”

Mark 1:2: It reads “in the prophets” with f35, A, W, at (96.7%), rather than “in Isaiah the prophet” as in Alpeh, B, and NU at (1.3%).

Mark 16:9-20: As expected, it includes the traditional ending with a note that refers the reader to Appendix E in INTT IV.

Notes on the ending of Mark (16:20):

It cites the colophon note on the date as “published ten years after the ascension of Christ.”

The text of Mark is based on 46 mss. from f35 with no “perfect” representative, such being “unreasonable expectation” for “a book of this size, besides being a Gospel,” but ms. 586 is off the text by only one letter!

Luke 23:34: It includes the prayer of Jesus noting it is in f35, Aleph, (A), C, N, (Q), at (99.2%--with a variety of minor variations).

Notes on the ending of Luke (24:53):

It cites the colophon note on the date of Luke as “published fifteen years after the ascension of Christ.”

The text of Luke is based on 25 mss from f35, with none “perfect”, “But several come very close….”

John 1:18: It reads “the only begotten Son [ho monogenes huios]” as in f35, A, (W), at (99%).

John 5:4: The apparatus notes the “whole verse” is in f35, (A), (99.2%).

John 7:53—8:11: The PA is included. The note points out that the passage is “omitted in about 15% of the extant MSS, including all early uncials except Codex D….”

Notes on the ending of John (21:25):

It cites the colophons on the date of John as “published thirty-two years after the ascension of Christ.”

The text of John is based on 33 mss from f35, with no “perfect” representative “but several come very close,” with cursive 2382 having only variant.

Acts 8:37: The verse is omitted in f35 with (88%), though it is noted that the OC and TR include. This note is also added: “Since Phillip’s house in Caesarea seems to have been something of a way-station for traveling Christians, he probably repeated the story hundreds of times; the information given in v. 37 is likely historically correct, but the Holy Spirit didn’t have Luke include it in the inspired account.”

Acts 12:25: See discussion of Appendices.

Ephesians 1:1: It includes “in Ephesus,” as in f35, (A), and (99.2%).

1 Timothy 3:16: It reads “God manifest in the flesh” with (98.5%). The note adds:

The variant chosen by the NU is a grammatical impossibility (no antecedent for the pronoun), besides being a stupidity. What is a ‘mystery’ about any human male being manifested in the flesh? All human beings have bodies. In the absence of concrete evidence, the claim that this quote is lifted from a known hymn or poem becomes no more than a desperate attempt to ‘save’ a choice that besides being stupid is also perverse (because of the theological consequences).

2 Peter 3:10: It reads “shall be burned up [katakesetai]” with f35, A, and (90.2%). As for the NU28 reading ouch eurethesetai it reads [0%], adding, “ECM (ECM follows essentially the Sahidic version.) (The reading of NU is inferior to the point of being almost nonsensical.)”!

1 John 5:7: It omits the CJ and lists as a (1%) reading, though noting inclusion in the OC and TR, listing five mss (61, 629, 918, 2318, and 2473, noting “all differ from each other; the two that agree verbatim with TR were probably copied from it.” It adds that the OC puts “in very small print.”

Jude 5: It reads “Lord” f35 (79.4%). After noting variants, it adds: “The Alexandrians really had fun with this one.”

Note on ending of Jude (v. 25):

The text of Jude is based on 46 mss from f35. It adds that “Tommy Wasserman’s complete collation of over 500 MSS” in The Epistle of Jude (2006) was also consulted.
Revelation 22:18: There is an interesting note here after the heading “A serious warning”:

I find it to be curious that in spite of the serious warning contained in verses 18 and 19, a warning issued by the glorified Christ Himself, the Apocalypse suffered more textual alteration than any other New Testament book. I suppose that the answer one gives will depend on his presuppositions.

Notes on the ending of Revelation (22:21):

It notes: “The statement of evidence are based almost entirely on Herman Hoskier’s monumental work” Concerning the Text of the Apocalypse (1929).

(3)  Appendices:

There are two appendices:

Appendix I lists Hoskier’s groupings of mss of Revelation (pp. 787-789).

Appendix II is titled “Where to Place a ‘Comma’—Acts 12:25” (pp. 791-794).

Of Acts, Pickering says: “When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70, it disappeared from the Christian map for centuries—the center of gravity of the Church was now Asia Minor.” In Asia Minor Greek was less well known, so Pickering suggests this “gave rise to the peculiar set of variants we encounter in Acts 12:25” (791).

This is, Pickering says, “the only place (yes, only) in the whole NT where the family [f35] splinters—there are no fewer than seven variants, five of them being of some consequence” (791).

He concludes that the original is Barnabas and Saul “returned to Antioch, having fulfilled their mission,” though it is supported by only (27.8%) of f35 mss and only 5.1% of mss overall.

The TR reads, “from [ex] Jerusalem” with only (1.3%) of f35, and with Aleph, A, and (3.6%) overall.

Meanwhile, the NU, as well as RP and HF, read “in Jerusalem” with (36.7%) of f35, B, and (60%) overall.

The Sovereign Creator Has Spoken: Objective Authority for Living: New Testament Translation with Commentary (2013):

This is Pickering’s English translation and commentary on his Majority Greek text of the NT. It has over 4,000 notes.

It has the same paragraph headings and divisions as the Greek text.

It capitalizes the divine pronouns, as in the NKJV.

Here is a sample of some of the renderings of well known verses in this translation:

Luke 2:9 When wow, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

John 3:16 Because God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes into Him should not be wasted, but should have eternal life.

Romans 6:1 So what shall we say? Shall we continue in the sin so that the grace may abound? 2 Of course not! How can we who died to sin keep on living in it?

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy; love does not brag, is not proud, 5 is not indecent, is not self-seeking, is not ‘short-fused,’ is not malicious;

Ephesians 2:10 You see, we are his ‘poem,’ created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance in order that we should walk in them.

Philippians 4:13 I can handle anything through Christ who strengthens me.

The translation style allows for dynamic equivalence. The prose is awkward, sometimes overly colloquial, and stiff.

The notes make reference to textual matters consistent with Pickering’s method. Examples:

At Matthew 6:13 it notes, “About 1% of the Greek manuscripts, of objectively inferior quality, omit the last clause (as in the NIV, [NASB], LB, TEV, etc.).”

At Mark 16:20: “For well over a hundred years, there has been an ongoing campaign to discredit the last twelve verses of Mark (16:9-20). I wonder where people get the motivation to expend so much time and energy on such an enterprise.”

At John 7:53: “Some 15% of Greek manuscripts omit 7:53—8:11, including most of the early ones, but that means that 85% contain it, including the Latin tradition that dates from the second century. Assuming (for the sake of argument) that the passage is spurious, how could it ever have intruded here, and to such affect that it is attested by some 85% of the MSS?” He also cited Augustine’s explanation for the passage’s omission due to moral objections.

Some of the translation and notes reflect a dispensational, or at-least pre-millennial, theology. Examples:

The heading at 1 Thessalonians 4:13 is “The Rapture” and the note begins, “This paragraph defines the Rapture…” but it does not define when this occurs.

2 Thessalonians 2:7b: “only He who now restrains will do so until He removes Himself.” Compare the NKJV. The note adds: “I would say that the Holy Spirit is the only one who satisfies this description.”

Notes on Revelation 20:6: “so that first resurrection must happen at the beginning of the thousand years, not the end.” This is the resurrection of the just while the resurrection to condemnation is “after the Millennium.”

Final Evaluation:

Here are some things to commend:

1.    Pickering takes a pious and believing approach to the task of text criticism. He believes in the “inerrancy” of Scripture.

2.    He rejects the modern critical “reconstructed” text and defends many traditional passages found in the Majority/Byzantine texts.

3.    He advocates for a particular view of the divine preservation of Scripture. This leads him to posit that that the text of the NT has not been lost but has been preserved in one particular family of mss. (f35).

4.    He has offered easy access to his labors in a free, digital format. He has not sought to “monetize” his work.

5.    He has completed the first English translation, of which I am aware, based on a Majority/Byzantine text. This demonstrates a consistency in method.

Here, however, are some challenges that might be raised:

1.    His affirmation of “inerrancy” demonstrates he is still working under the polemical assumptions of twentieth century evangelicalism. His approach is not guided by Reformed confessionalism and its emphases on the infallibility of Scripture, as preserved in the apographa.

2.    Though he defends many traditional texts affirmed by the Majority, he rejects others with valid claims to authenticity based on their antiquity, catholicity, and ubiquity. His method is hindered by the fact that he does not make use of lectionary, patristic, and versional evidence. It is interesting that he stresses his ability to trace f35 to the third century but does not argue that it goes back to the original authors.

3.   His view of preservation, though an improvement, is still based on a “reconstructionist” methodology, rather than a theological construal of divine providence.

4.  His work is freely offered, but I am not sure he proves why it is needed, given the existence of HF and RP.

5. This English translation will most likely have an extremely limited use. Majority/Byzantine advocates must explain why this textual tradition did not emerge as the “received text” of the Protestant Reformation era and why it has never been widely used as a translation in the life of ministry of any church since the age of the printing press. Even the Orthodox churches, the primary custodians of the Byzantine mss., have adopted a text in line with the TR. Rather than labor to reconstruct the Majority/Byzantine text, why not simply affirm the received text of the Reformers and those who came immediately after them?

Image: Five modern printed editions of the Greek NT (left to right): Robinson-Pierpont, Hodges-Farstad, Pickering, NA28, and TR (TBS)


The Vision (12.29.17): John 6:44 and Irresistible Grace

Image: Some CRBC kids at a recent Sunday lunch fellowship.
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 6:41-51.

No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:44).
In this verse we have one of the great prooftexts for what we call irresistible grace, or effectual calling, that is, the gracious way in which God the Father sovereignly draws men to the Lord Jesus Christ. He draws men like a magnet draws metal.
We use this language in evangelical circles for becoming a Christian. We refer to it as coming to Christ. You come to Christ when you hear the gospel, your heart is changed, you repent of your sin, and confess your faith in him. Jesus says none of that happens apart from the drawing work of the Father.
Jesus does not say, “No man come to me, except he is really sincere…except he really tries as hard as he can…except he weeps buckets of tears… except he does this, that, or the other thing….” No. He only speaks of what the God the Father must do. It is then God-centered, Patri-centric.
The verb here for “to draw” in Greek is elkuo. It is helpful to compare how this verb is used in the rest of John and in the NT. Compare:
John 12:32 where Christ speak of being lifted up and drawing all men to himself.
John 18:10 which speaks of Peter drawing his sword to strike the high priest’s servant when Christ is arrested.
John 21:6, 11 which speak of the disciples drawing a net filled with fish.
Acts 16:19 which speaks of Paul and Silas being drawn before the authorities in Philippi.
Acts 21:30 which speaks of Paul begin drawn by a mob out of the temple.
James 2:6 which speaks of Christians being drawn by the rich before the authorities.
So, the verb is used to describe a force that acts upon an object or person. Just as a sword does not draw itself out of its sheath or a net draw itself into the boat or onto the shore, so a sinner does not draw himself to Christ. God himself must graciously act upon him and draw him to Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Haldane on the dangers of denying the inspiration of any “single passage” in Scripture

I continue to be helped by reading Robert Haldane’s The Books of the Old and New Testaments Proven to Be Canonical and Their Verbal Inspiration Maintained and Established (1830; Sprinkle reprint, 2014). Of note is Haldane’s insistence that canon and inspiration are vitally related doctrines.

At one point, Haldane discusses the suggestion made by some that parts of the NT are not of lofty enough content to be considered inspired. Among the passages challenged he lists Luke’s account of Paul’s ship wreck in Acts 27, Paul’s advice to Timothy to take some wine for his stomach (1 Tim 5:23), and his instructions to bring a cloak (2 Tim 4:13).

Haldane warns that those who think they can say some parts of the Scripture are inspired while others are not threaten to set aside “the paramount authority” and unity of the Word of God. If such “licentious principles of interpretation” were admitted, the humble Christian would be thrown into confusion as to “what portion of it he is to consider as from God, and what portion as from man” (115). Rejection of any passage as uninspired would make “the progress to the non-inspiration of whole books of Scripture perfectly easy and natural” (116). If one book would be uninspired, then all of Scripture would be “subverted” (116). Yes, for Haldane it is a slippery slope. Deny the inspiration of any single passage in the Bible and eventually one will deny the whole is inspired.

So, Haldane continues:

The discovery in like manner, of one single passage in Scripture not dictated by the Holy Ghost, would make void the declaration that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” and would render inspiration necessary to tell us what part of it is inspired, and what is not. According to those writers who deny the doctrine of plenary inspiration we have not the pure Word of God; for much that we have under that designation is solely the word of man.

Let those who treat the Scriptures in this manner pause, and review the principles on which they are proceeding; and let them not perplex “plain Christians” with their rash and unhallowed speculations. The great body of believers receive, with implicit confidence, the whole contents of the Bible, as the oracles of God;—they venture not either to add to it, or to take from it. Convinced that it is the book of God, they treat even those parts of it which they do not understand with humble reverence... (116-117).

Though Haldane could not yet fully have imagined it in his day, one wonders what he would say now with the rise of modern text criticism. What would he say of modern translations that bracket passages like Mark 16:9-20 or John 7:53—8:11? How would Haldane assess those who claim that Jesus’ prayer from the cross, “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do” in Luke 23:34 is just a pious accretion and not part of the inspired text? Or those who reject 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, because it does not conform to their modern egalitarian sensitivities? Would he not ask by what special inspiration the critic now claims to distinguish between what is inspired and what it not? Would he not worry that the “plain Christian” who reads the editorial insertions and footnotes in his modern Bible will only become confused and perplexed by this “guidance”?


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Calvin on believers boldly raising their eyes to the last day (John 6:39-40)

Image: Calvin on his deathbed
Note: Devotion taken from the sermon on John 6:28-40 (12.17.17).
John 6:39 And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that everyone which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
We see in these verses a stress upon the Son’s delight in doing the Father’s will and in fulfilling the Father’s decree both to save his elect and to never lose a single one of his lambs.
This does not mean that the believer will never go without physical bread in this life or that he will never face discouragements, sufferings, and setbacks, due to either his own sin or that of others.  It does not mean he will be exempt from death.
But it does mean that he has the assurance that he will never be cast out, he shall never fall from the Father’s hand, and, no matter what he may face in this life, in the end, he will experience the final resurrection.
Calvin says that when we ponder Christ’s words here we should understand that Christ “is not the guardian of our salvation for a single day, or for a few days, but that he will take care of [us] to the end, so that he will conduct us, as it were, from the commencement to the termination of our course…”
He adds:
This promise is highly necessary for us, who miserably groan under so great weaknesses of the flesh, of which every one of us is sufficiently aware; and at every moment, indeed, the salvation of the whole world might be ruined, were it not that believers, supported by the hand of Christ, advance boldly to the day of resurrection. Let this therefore be fixed in our minds, that Christ has stretched out his hand to us, that he may not desert us in the midst of the course, but that, relying on his goodness, we may boldly raise our eyes to the last day.


Friday, December 22, 2017

The Vision (12.22.17): I am the bread of life

Image: CRBC Elder Jeff Clark with Thursday Bible Study group at Epworth Manor, Louisa, Virginia, December 14, 2017. Photo credit: Barbara Clark.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 6:28-40.

John 6:34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore gives us this bread. 35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
In light of Christ’s teaching about the “true bread” in John 6:32, the crowd petitions: “Lord, evermore give us this bread” (v. 34).
This would have been a fitting request, if they had understood who Christ is. As it stands, however, it only demonstrates their dullness.
Jesus had spoken about the “true bread” which comes down from heaven and gives life (6:32-33). They reply: Give it to us. They are thinking that he is speaking about some kind of bread to fill the stomach, some magic manna, and not about himself.
Their petition is much like that of the Samaritan woman in John 4. After Jesus had spoken to her about the living water, she said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw” (4:15).
Then we come to Christ’s declaration of a key analogy or comparison, the first of the so-called seven “I am” sayings of John’s Gospel (but cf. already John 6:20), as Jesus declares: “I am the bread of life” (v. 35a). Every Jewish hearer would have noted an echo here of Exodus 3:14, Moses at the burning bush. When Jesus says, “I am”, he is making himself equal with God. Jesus comes not as a social worker, not as a community activist, who tries to fill the stomachs of men. He comes as God himself incarnate.
He has already spoken of himself as the “true bread,” and now he calls himself “the bread of life.” Bread was a staple in the diet of first century men as it remains for most men today. In some ways bread is the most basic, the most primal of all the foods which nourish and strengthen a man. Through this analogy Jesus is saying, I am not peripheral to a man’s existence, but I am essential to a man’s health and well-being. Either he will receive me and flourish or he will reject me, shrivel, and die.
So, Jesus says, “he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (v. 35). Calvin in his commentary notes the expansion of the metaphor here. We do not think of bread satisfying thirst. The point is that Christ is the food that satisfies a man’s soul, that meets his cravings and longings, and that soothes his restless heart.
This is the reality of who Christ is and what he does for those who believe in him.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

CRBC Epworth Outreach (12.20.17)

Wednesday evening (12.20.17), we hosted a CRBC outreach at Epworth Manor, a retirement housing community in Louisa. We sang carols to the residents, distributed copies of the Gospel of John and tracts, then hosted a fellowship in the community center that included a gospel devotion. Elder Jeff Clark also leads a CRBC Bible Study at Epworth each Thursday at 11 am. Here are some pics from the outreach:


Thursday, December 21, 2017

WM 85: Review: The Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch

Image: Depiction of the martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch in Rome

I have posted Word Magazine 85: Review: The Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch (listen here). In this episode I present an introduction to and overview of the post-apostolic seven epistles of Ignatius of Antioch. I make use of the text in Andrew Louth, Ed., Early Christian Writings (Penguin Books, 1987). Here are some of my notes:

The Letters of Ignatius of Antioch:

Note: This Ignatius is not to be confused with the much later Ignatius of Loyola (1495-1556), the Spanish priest who was the founder of the Jesuits (in 1534).

Ignatius was the bishop of Syrian Antioch, the same city where Paul and Barnabas had ministered (see Acts 10:19-26; 15:1-2). The dates for his life are c. 35-c. 107). This places Ignatius very close to the age of the apostles. In his letters he also refers to himself as Theophorus (or God-bearer).

We have a collection of seven of his letters (six to churches, one to his fellow bishop Polycarp of Smyrna). Some have suggested that the earliest collection of Paul’s letters or, at the last, the first section of Paul’s letters, consisted of letters to seven churches or groups of churches. Consider also the letters of the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation chapters 2-3.

Context for Ignatius’ letters:

According to Eusebius, Ignatius was condemned to death and sent to Rome under the rule of the Emperor Trajan (AD 98-117). As he is transported across Asia Minor under the guard of ten soldiers he is visited by delegations from various churches and writes seven letters. He wrote four letters from Smyrna (Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans) and three from Troas (Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans, and to Polycarp). Tradition suggests that he eventually arrived in Rome and met his death after being exposed to wild beasts.

His letters are noteworthy for several ways in which it offers insight to Christian belief in the early post-apostolic era. Here are several key areas:

First: The emphasis on obedience to church leadership.

Ignatius makes frequent reference to three offices: bishop, clergy (presbytery), and deacons. Compare the two-fold structure of 1 Timothy 3 and Philippians 1:1. Some suggest that we see here the development of the “monarchical bishop,” which sees the bishop not as the teaching elder in a single local church but as an authoritative regional leader Ignatius urges complete submission to church leadership.

Second: The zeal for martyrdom.

In these letters we see the root of martyrdom stories and lives of the “saints.”

Tertullian, another Church Father, will later say that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed-bed for the church.”

Third: The continued resistance to false teaching.

This includes conflict with Docetism and Judaizers.

Fourth: The development of other church traditions and doctrines.

This includes developing views on the Eucharist or communion.

It has been said: “The Church Fathers should really be called the Church Infants.”

Spurgeon is said to have quipped: “I love the Fathers, but I love more the Grandfathers.”

Notes on Individual letters:

1.    Ignatius to the Ephesians:

In the opening greeting he reflects Pauline emphasis on predestination and election, describing the Ephesians as “marked out since the beginning of time” and “owing its unity and election” to God.

He notes that the bishops “represent the mind of Christ” (par. 3).

He urges the Ephesians to “show no disloyalty to the bishop” (par. 5).

He says, “we must regard the bishop as the Lord Himself” (par. 6).

He stresses orthodox Christology, noting that Jesus is “God and man in one agreed” (par. 7).

He commends the Ephesians for being “deaf as stones” to false teachers (par. 9).

With regard to eschatology, he can say, “The end of all things is near” (par. 11).

He can speak of the cross as that “which so greatly offends the unbelievers” (par. 18).

He speaks of “Mary’s virginity being hidden from the prince of the world, so was her child-bearing, and so was the death of the Lord” (par. 19). Does this reflect a theology of the incarnation “hoodwinking the devil” (see Louth’s note 16, p. 68).

He speaks of the breaking of bread as “the medicine of immortality” (par. 20).

2.    Ignatius to the Magnesians:

He exhorts, “Let the bishop preside in the place of God, and his clergy [presbyteroi] in the place of the Apostolic conclave, and let my special friends the deacons be entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ” (par. 6).

He exhorts the Magnesians, “so you yourselves must never act independently of your bishop and clergy [presbytery]. On no account persuade yourselves that it is right and proper to follow your own private judgment” (par. 7).

On Judaizers, he notes how “adherents of ancient customs have since obtained a new hope; so that they give up keeping the sabbath, and now order their lives by the Lord’s Day instead” (par. 9).

Further on Judaizers: “To profess Jesus Christ while continuing to follow Jewish customs is an absurdity. The Christian faith does not look to Judaism but Judaism looks to Christianity” (p. 73). Footnote 8 indicates that this is the earliest use of the term “Christianity” (cf. Ignatius Romans, par. 3 and Philadelphians, par. 6).

He exhorts: “Be as submissive to the bishop and to one another as Jesus Christ was to his Father, and as the Apostles were to Christ” (par. 13).

3.    Ignatius to the Trallians:

He commends them for obedience to their bishop and urges they be “no less submissive to your clergy [presbytery], and regard them as apostles of Jesus Christ in our Hope” (par. 2).

He suggests, “without these three orders [bishops, elders, deacons] no church has any right to the name” (par. 3).

He uses a gastronomic analogy to warn against false teaching, urging the Trallians to be nourished only “on Christian fare, and have no truck with the alien herbs of heresy,” warning against men who “mingle poison with Jesus Christ” (par. 6).

He summarizes the preaching of Christ (par. 9).

He warns against docetics who teach, “that His sufferings were not genunine” (par. 10).

Returning to his gastronomic analogy, he warns, “they are poisonous growths with deadly fruit, and one taste of it is a speedy fatality” (par. 11).

4.    Ignatius to the Romans:

Note: This letter does not include exhortations on obedience to bishops and warnings against heresy. It focuses instead on Ignatius’ impending martyrdom and might be called a “martyrs’ manual” (p. 84).

He urges the Romans not to intervene to save his life: “suffer me to a libation poured out to God” (par. 2).

He notes, “Christianity lies in achieving greatness in the face of a world’s hatred” (par. 3).

He expresses his zeal for martyrdom: “I am truly in earnest about dying for God.” He asks to be left to become “a meal for the beasts,” noting, “I am his wheat ground fine by lion’s teeth to be made purest bread for Christ” (par. 4).

He acknowledges he cannot issue orders as an apostle, like Peter or Paul (par. 4).

He says, “these chains are schooling me to have done with earthly desires” (par. 4).

More zeal for martyrdom: “How I look forward to the real lions that have been got ready for me!” (par. 5).

He exhorts; “Do not have Jesus Christ on your lips and the world in your heart” (par. 7).

5.    Ignatius to the Philadelphians:

He urges, “that you hold aloof from all disunion and misguided teaching” and “where your bishop is, there follow him like a sheep” (par. 2).

And: “Have nothing to do with “poisonous weeds.” “Every man who belongs to God and Jesus Christ stands by his bishop.” The “adherents of a schismatic can never inherit the kingdom of God” (par. 3).

He urges observance of “one common Eucharist” under “one bishop,” with elders, and deacons (par. 4).

He argues against those who “propound Judaism to you, do not listen to him.” Those who fail to preach Christ are “no more than tombstones and graves of the dead” (par. 6).

He exhorts: “Be loyal to your bishop, and clergy [presbytery], and deacons” (par. 7).

He refers to those who seek out “the ancient records” [autographic copies of the Scriptures?], but says, his records are Jesus Christ (par. 8).

He refers to a deacon named Philo who preaches God’s word (par. 11).

6.    Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans:

He provides a summary of teaching on Christ noting “his manhood, yet Son of God” (par. 1).

Contra docetism, he says, “His Passion was no unreal illusion, as some sceptics who are all unreality themselves [might say] (par. 2).

He declares, “For my part, I know and believe that He was in actual human flesh, even after His resurrection.” He urges avoidance of false teachers. At most, say a prayer for them. If everything is an illusion, he notes, “then these chains of mine must be illusory too!” More zeal for martyrdom: “when I am close to the sword, I am close to God, and when I am surrounded by lions, I am surrounded by God” (par. 3).

He describes those who absent themselves from the Eucharist and public prayers (cf. Hebrews 10:24-25), saying they do so, “because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same body of our Saviour Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His goodness afterwards raised up again” (par. 7). Is this an early evidence of transubstantiation or “real presence”? Or, is it more related to refutation of docetism? Heretics deny Jesus came in the flesh.

He exhorts; “Abjure factions” and “follow your bishop.” Noting is to be done “with the bishop’s sanction.” There should be a sole Eucharist under his direction. He notes, “Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be.” No baptisms or love-feasts are to be observed “without the bishop” (par. 8).

The one who honors the bishop is honored by God, “but to go behind the bishop’s back is to be the servant of the devil” (par. 9).

7.    Ignatius to Polycarp:

His advice the younger Polycarp:

“press on more strenuously in your course” (par. 1).

“bring the troublesome ones into order, by using gentleness” (par. 2).

“So be strict with yourself, like a good athlete of God” (par. 2).

“Stand your ground with firmness, like an anvil under the hammer” (par. 3).

“Hold services more frequently and hunt up everyone by name” (par. 4).

Exhortations to wives and husbands (par. 5; cf. Paul’s household codes).

To the Smyrnaeans, “Pay careful regard to your bishop.” He makes use of the whole armor analogy (par. 6; cf. Ephesians 6).

“A Christian, after all, is not his own master; he puts his time at God’s disposal” (par. 7).

Note high Christology in closing greeting: “Farewell always in our God Jesus Christ” (cf. 1 Timothy 3:16).

Closing Thoughts:

First: We can see in Ignatius continuity with apostolic theology in his focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus and in his affirmation of a God-centered view of salvation and election (see the opening to his letter to the Ephesians).

Second: On church office: We see Ignatius’ emphasis on a threefold office: bishops, elders, and deacons. Is this, however, the “monarchical” bishop, or does it reflect the two roles within the one office of elder (teaching and ruling elders)?

Third: Ignatius affirms a cessationist view. He sees a clear distinction between himself and the apostles. There is no mention of the continuing office of prophet or apostles. He sees the officers as performing ordinary duties of teaching and ruling, rather than exercising extra-ordinary duties.