Friday, March 22, 2019

The Vision (3.22.19): The Mother of Christ at the Cross

Image: Detail from Hans Memling (1430-1494) triptych of the crucifixion.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 19:23-27.

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25).

John describes the women who “stood by the cross of Jesus” (v. 25). This is another reminder that the cross was not off on some isolated hillside but likely on a well-traveled roadway or thoroughfare into the city (cf. v. 20). Christ was not hoisted ten feet into the air but was likely just off the ground, so that his followers could still look into his eyes, speak with him, and witness his sufferings.

These women showed a much greater degree of courage, even than most of the twelve (v. 25). Certainly, unlike Peter, they had not denied and disowned their Lord.

There were apparently three women there [“his mother, and….and….”]. Though some believe that there were four. Just as there will be women who are witnesses of the resurrection, there were also women who were witnesses of the crucifixion of Christ. One might call them three Marys:

First among them is the Lord’s mother. From the other Gospels we know that her name was Mary (a form of the Hebrew name Miriam, the sister of Moses). One of the many peculiarities of John’s Gospel is that he never calls Mary by her name in this Gospel. She is instead called, as here, “his mother” (cf. John 2:3, 5).

One of the sad things that has happened over the years is that most Protestants avoid saying very much about Mary. Why? Because of so much un-biblical and inappropriate focus upon her, especially among Roman Catholics, where the cult of Mary is pervasive. Some RCs speak of Mary as the co-Redemptrix with Christ. Notice, however, that Mary is not on the cross. She is standing at the foot of the cross. Mary should never be the focus of our worship and devotion. That focus is devoted exclusively to the Lord.

The overlooking of Mary is sad, however, because there is much positive that can be said about her. She and the brothers of our Lord, especially James, were among the earliest and most exemplary disciples of Christ. This, in itself, is proof of his divinity.

And one sign of Mary’s steadfastness is that she did not desert our Lord in his time of suffering and death. The scene here likely fulfills the prediction made to Mary by the aged Simeon at the dedication of the infant Jesus in the Jerusalem: “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy soul also” (see Luke 2:34-35).

Indeed, how seeing the Lord upon the cross must have felt like a sword through the heart to Mary. We should not worship Mary, but we can admire her.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Eusebius, EH.1.10: Christ and Annas and Caiaphas

Image: The so-called "Caipaphas ossuary", discovered in a burial cave in Jerusalem in 1990 and believed to hold the remains of Caiaphas the high priest mentioned in the Gospels.

A new installment has been posted in the series through Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 1, chapters 10 (listen here).

Notes and Commentary:

Eusebius continues to set the historical time frame for the life of Jesus, drawing upon Luke and Josephus.

Citing Luke 3:1, 23 he notes that Jesus was baptized in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius as Roman emperor and the fourth year of the rule of Pontius Pilate as governor of Judea, and that Jesus began his public ministry when he about thirty years old.

He then takes Luke 3:2 to refer to the life of Jesus being set between the high priesthoods of Annas and Caiaphas (Luke 3:2: “Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests…”). From this he assumes that the public ministry of Jesus less than four full years.

Drawing on Josephus’s Antiquities, he notes that there were three high priests who served brief terms between Annas and Caiaphas:

Ananus (deposed by Valerius Gratus, Pilate’s predecessor)
Ishmael, son of Phabi
Eliezer, son of Ananus
Simon, son of Kathimus
Josephus (Caiaphas)

So, after the deposal of Annas, there were four high priesthoods in less than four years. Eusebius concludes: “Thus the whole time of the teaching of our Saviour is shown to be not even four full years.”

Furthermore, Eusebius notes the calling of the twelve apostles at the beginning of his ministry, as well as the sending of the seventy.

Note: Although Eusebius does not mention the traditional three-year scheme for Jesus’s public ministry, drawn from John’s mention of Jesus’s four Passover visits to Jerusalem, his less than four-year ministry scheme roughly fits with this. The question remains, however, whether Eusebius properly interprets Luke 3:2. Did Luke intend there to say that the public ministry of Jesus extended from the deposal of Annas to the high priesthood of Caiaphas?


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Eusebius, EH.1.9: Christ and Pontius Pilate

Image: Mosaic detail of Pontius Pilate, Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy, 5th-6th cenutry.

The next installment is posted in the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 1, chapter 9 (Listen here):

Notes and Commentary:

This is another very brief chapter.

Its purpose is to set a time frame for understanding the life and ministry of Jesus.

Eusebius begins by referring to Luke as “the historian [ho historikos].” He cites Luke 3:1 with references to the tetrarchies of Philip, the younger Herod, and Lysanius, after the deposal of Archelaus.
He then turns to book 18 of Josephus’s Antiquities (note how Luke is set in par with Josephus as an accurate historian of the era) to describe the rule of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate over Judea, beginning in the twelfth year of Tiberius, lasting for ten years.
Eusebius rejects as spurious a series of “reports” about the Savior (which Lake identifies as the Acta Pilata, noting they are “Christian forgeries of uncertain date” [n. 1, p. 74]) supposedly from the time of Pilate, noting that they claim Pilate was ruling in the seventh year of Tiberius’s reign, but this cannot be accurate, since, as noted above, Pilate only became governor in the twelfth year of Tiberius’s reign.
Again, we see that Eusebius is keen firmly to ground the life of Jesus in historical reality.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Allusion to a Bi-Covenantal Canon in 2 Peter 3:2, etc.

More gleanings from Kruger’s Canon Revisited (Crossway, 2012): 207-209:

Kruger notes: “A key indication of an emerging canon within early Christianity is that Christians began to conceive of something like a New Testament alongside, and parallel to, the Old” (207). The early evidence of this is “rare” but “cannot be overlooked” (207).

Kruger sees this is 2 Peter 3:2: “That we may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour.”

Here the writer thinks in terms of the (written) words of the prophets and the (written) commandment of the apostles.

He also sees the possibility of a bi-covenantal allusion in 2 Corinthians 3 where Paul refers to himself and other apostles as “ministers of the new testament [diatheke, covenant]” (v. 6), while later making reference to the writings of Moses as part of the “old testament [diatheke, covenant]” (v. 14).

He adds: “The implications of this passage for bi-covenantal canon are difficult to miss” (208-209).

Finally, he also notes Hebrews 2:2-3 which juxtaposes “the word spoken by angels” (v. 2, in reference to the OT) and that “which at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (v. 3).

Kruger concedes that this reference is not “obvious” but that it nonetheless “continues to lay the foundation for a future bi-covenantal canonical structure” (209).


Sunday, March 17, 2019

Calvin on the implications of the beloved disciple's care for the mother of Jesus (John 19:27)

Image: The supposed "house of Mary" near the site of ancient Ephesus in Turkey. Tradition says John brought Mary to Ephesus and cared for her there.

I preached this morning a sermon on John 19:23-27, including our Lord’s words from the cross to the beloved disciple, “Behold thy mother!” (v. 27a), entrusting care of his mother to this disciple (John).

I ran out of time, so I did not get the chance to share this intriguing insight from Calvin on v. 27b: “And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home [eis ta idia]” (v. 27b). Notice “home” is in italic.
Calvin observes:
“Hence it is also evident that the Apostles had their families; for John could not have exercised hospitality towards the mother of Christ, or have taken her into his own home, if he had not a house and a regular way of living. Those men, therefore, are fools who think that the Apostles relinquished their property, and came to Christ naked and empty; but they are worse than fools, who make perfection [maturity] to consist in beggary.”
Again, we see Calvin’s commentary influenced by his contemporary efforts to reform the RC church of his day. His point: You don’t have to take a vow of poverty, renounce the world, and live in a monastery to live a faithful Christian life. This is not what the apostles did. On the contrary, your duty is to live in the world while not being part of it, and to love Christ and love the brethren.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Vision (3.15.19): Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews

Image: A hypothetical reconstruction of the Titulus Crucis by P. L. Maier.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 19:13-22.

And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS (John 19:19).

In Roman crucifixions, it was common for there to be a titulus, a placard or tablet, spelling out the crimes of the condemned. John says that the providential, guiding hand of God was there, directing Pilate to write, “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews” (v. 19).

The location of the crucifixion was public and visible: “for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city” (v. 20). The inscription was tri-lingual, in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Jews, Greeks, and Romans could all understand it. The inscription accused the Lord Jesus of being an insurrectionist. It mocked him as a failed king. But, ironically, it told the truth. The chief priests were so unnerved by this that they tried to get Pilate to change it (v. 21), but Pilate refused (v. 22).

Thus, Calvin says, Pilate, a reprobate man, “by a secret guidance” was “appointed to be a herald of the gospel that he might publish a short summary of it in three languages.” The tri-lingual note anticipates the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20), that men of all nations, will come to know Christ. How happy is the foreign traveler when he finds a sign in this native tongue! How glad the man who hears the gospel in his heart language!

The apostle Paul is perhaps making reference to this kind of title in Colossians 2:14 when he talks about Christ “blotting out the handwriting of the ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.”

Indeed, all of our sin was nailed to the cross. Our titulus was there. Christ, our King, died on the cross for the sins of men from all nations.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Eusebius, EH.1.8: The Death of Herod the Great

Image: The funeral procession of Herod the Great to his mausoleum at Herodium in 4 BC. Illustration by Hong Nian Zhang.

A new installment has been post to the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 1, chapter 8 (Listen here):

Notes and Commentary:

This chapter describes the ignoble end of Herod the Great and recalls the Biblical adage that as a man sows, so shall he reap (cf. Gal 6:7).

Eusebius draws on Matthew’s account of the visit of the magi at the birth of Jesus and the massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem.

He also draws on the accounts in Josephus, from both his Antiquities of the Jews and the Jewish War, of Herod’s miserable suffering with disease, including gangrene in his genitals and “breeding worms”, his plan to take captive and murder a crowd in the Hippodrome so that there would be weeping at his death, and the murder of a third son before his death.

Eusebius sees Herod’s suffering was an act of God’s justice for his murder of the innocents at Bethlehem.

Lastly, he returns to Matthew’s account of Joseph bringing Jesus to Galilee from Egypt at Herod the Great’s death.


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Book Note: Jacob K. Olupona's African Religions

Jacob K. Olupona, African Religions: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2014): 152 pp.

I got started reading this little book last year while preparing to teach a unit on African religions for a World Religions class. Here are some notes:

Olupona is a Professor of African Religious Traditions at Harvard Divinity School. This book is in the popular “Very Short Introductions” series from Oxford.

In the preface, he traces the development of the field of the study of African religions. He begins by acknowledging that Christians missionaries were the first to take up these studies:

“Some of the most serious early writings about African religions were produced by European missionaries sent to Africa to spread Christianity. For these missionaries, the study of African religion was ultimately a preparatio evangelica, a necessary step toward understanding the most expedient way to convert Africans to Christianity” (xxi). He also connects their study to colonialism.

“Gradually, the study of African religions developed as an autonomous field within comparative religions” (xxi).

He later notes the importance of the ancestors in African religions: “Ancestral traditions, the veneration of deceased parents and forebears, constitutes a key aspect of African religions. Some traditions regard ancestors as equal if not superior to the deities within the pantheon; also, it is not always easy to make a distinction between ancestors and divinities” (28).

In a section on divination, Olupona notes how with the advent of Islam and Christianity into Africa the sacred writings of these religions were used as “divination devises.” He describes “bibliomancy” as “divination through the selection of randomly selected passages” and notes it is widespread in Africa (49).

He begins a section on African witchcraft by noting it is “completely unrelated to the religious practices of modern neo-Pagans who sometimes use the word ‘Witchcraft’ (or, more commonly, Wicca) as the name of their religion, sometimes self-identifying as witches” (49-50). Such “goddess-centered religion focused on nature veneration and holistic wellness” has no connection to witchcraft in African religions (50). In contrast, he observes, “In Africa, witchcraft is almost universally defined as the manipulation of occult forces to do harm and achieve selfish ends” (50). He adds that witches are usually marginal people (widows, elderly, outsiders, strangers) and “almost always women” (50).

He defines sorcery as “an indigenous technology implemented to manipulate the sacred for negative ends”, adding, “Indeed, a thin line exists between healers, witches, and sorcerers” (51).

In a section on initiation rites, Olupona notes, “Initiations for adolescent African girls cause great consternation among Westerners, because they often involve female circumcision” (59). He defends the practice, however, by noting that in many cultures it is “less dramatic, involving only partial removal of the clitoris, or only small ritual cuts to the clitoris and labia” (59). One wonders, however, if the author is minimizing the negative aspects of this practice.

Regarding Islam and Christianity in Africa, Olupona begins, “Africa domesticated the two exogenous religions” (89).

While saying that Christianity was “deeply culpable in the African slave trade,” Olupona also observes, “Contrary to the way that it is popularly imagined, the majority of African slaves were not directly captured by Europeans” (95). “Slavery was already endemic throughout Africa, with the enslavement of defeated peoples being common” (96). Thus, he concludes, “both Europeans and Africans were responsible for the Atlantic slave trade” (96).

In the colonial period of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, the author notes that in general Christianity “tended to fare much better under colonial rule than did Islam” (99).

In the modern period he calls attention to the rise of the so-called African Independent Churches (AIC). He notes, “The AIC movement is arguably the most creative and vibrant Christian movement in African history and has led to massive numbers of conversions” (100). While acknowledging that many of these AIC’s have  adopted cult-like practices, he does not offer the assessment that many of these movements hold little semblance to historic, orthodox Christianity.

Finally, he talks about the spread of African religious practices in the African diaspora, so that African religions are now a global phenomenon.

Though it takes an overall relativistic view on theology and religious practices (describing, rather than prescribing), this little book is a succinct, well-written, and insightful introduction to understanding African religions.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Eusebius, EH.1.7: Harmonizing the Genealogies of Matthew and Luke

Image: This chart represents the view espoused by Eusebius, drawing on Africanus, for harmonizing the genealogies of Matthew (left) and Luke (right).

A new installment from Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History has been posted: book 1, chapter 7 (Listen here).

Notes and Commentary:

This chapter is an attempt by Eusebius to harmonize the genealogies of Matthew 1 and Luke 3. He cites as a source a letter from Julius Africanus to Aristides on the harmony of the genealogies of the Gospels.

Among the major differences in the two genealogies is the fact that Matthew traces the line through David’s son Solomon and ends, “And Jacob begat Joseph” (Matt 1:16a); meanwhile, Luke traces the line through David’s son Nathan and begins by noting that Jesus was supposed to be “the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli” (Luke 3:23). How could Joseph be the son of both Jacob (Matt) and Heli (Luke)?

Eusebius argues that “neither Gospel misstates, reckoning both nature and law.” He adds, “both accounts are strictly true … in a manner complicated but accurate.”

Lake explains in a footnote:

“The point of this obscure argument is that among the Jews if a man died childless his brother was charged with the duty of begetting children of the widow, who was still reckoned as the wife of the deceased. Such children were legally regarded as the sons of the dead brother, though known to be actually the children of the living one. This happened in the case of Joseph. He was legally the son of Eli [Heli], physically of Jacob. A further complication was that Eli and Jacob were only half brothers. They were the sons of the same mother, Estha, but Eli was the son of her second husband, Melchi, descended from Nathan the son of David, and Jacob was the son of her first husband Mattan, descended from Solomon the son of David. Thus, Matthew giving the physical descent of Jesus traces it through Jacob to Solomon, but Luke (who avoids the word ‘begat’) giving the legal descent traces it through Eli to Nathan” (n. 2, pp. 56-57).
I agree with Lake that this explanation is “obscure.” A simpler harmonization would be to say that Matthew provides the legal line through Joseph, a descendent of David through Solomon, and Luke, the natural line through Mary, also a descendent of David but through Nathan, thus making Heli the father of Mary not Joseph in Luke 3:23.

Eusebius also makes reference to traditions handed down “by the human relatives of the Savior,” that Herod the Great had attempted to obscure.

He again, puts forward the idea that Herod the Great was not a Jew. He suggests that Herod the Great’s father Antipater had been taken captive by the Idumaeans from the temple of Apollo, where his father, a certain Herod, was a priest. Antipater was later befriended by Hyrcanus, priest of Judea. Then, when Antipater died, his son Herod the Great was made king of the Jews by the Romans.

Herod the Great had tried to burn family records to hide his origins but private records were preserved, again by the family of Jesus, which tell the true story of his descent.
Finally, Eusebius adds that the Jewish practice requiring tribes to marry among their own also argues for Mary as from the tribe of Judah.

This analysis provides an excellent example of early Christian pre-critical analysis of Scripture, which seeks to harmonize the canonical Gospels and assumes them to be historically reliable.


Saturday, March 09, 2019

Eusebius, EH.1.6: Christ and Herod

Image: Bronze prutah (small value coin) from the rule of Herod of the Great (c. 37-4 BC).

A new installment to the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History has been posted, book 1, chapter 6. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

Eusebius here focuses on the fact that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod, who was the first, as he sees it, non-Jewish king of Israel. Herod, if an Idumean on his father’s side and an Arab on his mother’s side, was “the first foreigner to hold the sovereignty of the Jewish nation.”

For Eusebius this fulfilled Genesis 49:10: “A ruler shall not fail from Judah nor a leader from his loins until he comes for whom it is reserved.”

He also sees the birth of Jesus as fulfilling a prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27, regarding “the number of certain weeks” and the coming of the Messiah.

We see again how Eusebius sees continuity OT prediction and NT fulfillment.


Friday, March 08, 2019

The Vision (3.8.19): The Scourging of Christ

Image: Romans weapons

Note: Devotion taken from sermon on John 19:1-12 on 2.24.19.

Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him (John 19:1).

On the heels of the release of Barabbas (18:38-40), comes the scourging of Christ. The Lord Jesus takes upon him the stripes that Barabbas deserved. The verb for to scourge is mastigao. It can also mean to flog, whip, or beat.

J. C. Ryle observed: “The cruel injury inflicted on our Lord’s body, in this verse, was probably far more severe than an English reader might suppose. It was a punishment which among the Romans generally preceded crucifixion, and was sometimes so painful and violent that the sufferer died under it. It was a scourging with rods, not always with cords, as painters and sculptors represent.”

Another source, however, says that scourging was “a severe punishment using a whip that had bits of bone or metal imbedded at the tip” (Orthodox Study Bible).

In his book Crucifixion, the historian Martin Hengel describes flogging as “a stereotyped part of the punishment” of crucifixion, which “would make the blood flow in streams” (32). He notes that Christ’s loss of blood due to the scourging is what caused him to be so weakened so as not to be able to carry the cross and best explains “his relatively speedy death” when he was crucified (32).

J. C. Ryle continues: “As to Pilate’s reason for inflicting this punishment on our Lord, there seems little doubt. He secretly hoped that this tremendous scourging, in the Roman fashion, with satisfy the Jews; and that after seeing Jesus beaten, bleeding, and torn with rods, they would be content to let him go free.”

Scourging was a graphic and violent punishment, but note that it is relayed discreetly in Scripture. There is none of the gritty detail of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. These simple words are sufficient.

Here is the fulfilment of prophecy: Isaiah 53:5: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

Today we look with admiration at the one who stood in our place, suffered, bled and died for us.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Eusebius, EH.1.5: The Date of Christ's Birth

Image: Excavation, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

The next installment of Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History is now posted: book 1, chapter 5 (listen here).

Notes and Commentary:

This is a very short chapter.

Having presented an introduction or prelude to the life of Jesus from the OT, Eusebius begins with providing a date for the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

He places it in the forty-second year of Augustus and the twenty-eighth year after the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra. Lake points out in a note that this would place the birth year of Jesus as being in 1 BC, but this would not fit with Matthew which says that Jesus was born during Herod the Great’s reign, and he died in 4 BC.

He also mentions that the birth of Jesus was during the census of Quirinius of Syria mentioned in Luke and equates this with the rise of Judas the Galilean “in the days of the taxing” mentioned in Acts 5:37 and also in the writings of Josephus. Lake points out, however, that Eusebius is mistaken, since this occurred in AD 6 and would thus contradict the information in Matthew and Luke. Traditional scholars suggest that the census mentioned in Luke 2:1-3 was earlier than the one noted in Acts 5:37 and in Josephus.

This chapter shows both how important it was for early Christians to understand that Jesus had been born as a man in history, but also how difficult it is to establish his birth date (birth year) with precision. We rely on the sufficiency of Scripture.


Tuesday, March 05, 2019

WM 119: Sanctified Mind Podcast: Text and Time

WM 119: Sanctified Mind Podcast: Text and Time is posted to (listen here).

In WM 119 I want to share a recent podcast by a group of three young men (Beau, Ryan, and Daniel—A RB and two Reformed Presbyterians) who live in the Atlanta, Georgia area.

The name of their podcast is The Sanctified Mind. The episode I want to share is episode 004, posted on 3.1.19. The podcast looks to be a reading discussion group. Each month or so they choose a different book to read and discuss together. The first book they reviewed was Machen’s What is Faith? I like that they are doing some older books and not just new ones.

In this most recent episode they are discussing Edward H. Hills, Text and Time: A Reformed Approach to NT Textual Criticism. If that title does not ring a bell for you, it is because this is a new kindle edition of Hills’ classic and influential work The King James Version Defended (Christian Research Press, May 25, 2018). The editor listed as Mary E. Hills Mueller. I assume this is Dr. Hills’ daughter.

I think it was, indeed, a great idea to release this work under a new title and in a digital format. As the men point out in the discussion, the book’s old title led to confusion with Hills’s view and KJV-Onlyism. They also make the point that Hills’ original editions of this work in the 1950s came before the avalanche of modern English translations.

As with WM 118 when I shared the podcast from Agros Church, I am encouraged by this podcast because it is yet another illustration of young Reformed men who are reconsidering the whole question of text (the “Young, Text-less, and Reformed”). They are seeing the difference between a presuppositional approach to text versus an empirical approach; a confessional versus a modern critical approach; a restorationist versus a providential preservationist approach.

At least one of the brothers notes that he is still working through the issues. I can respect that.

They also are aware of the ecclesiological issues. Toward the end, someone say something like, “We wouldn’t let unbelievers come into our church lead a Bible study, why would we let unbelieving scholars edit and control the texts of our Bible?” Great question.

There are some technical issues in the podcast. There are some long gaps at point, and they apparently could not always hear each other in real time and so sometimes talk over each other, but I think this podcast is still worth a listen. So, enjoy….


Eusebius, EH.1.4: Christianity not a novelty

Image: Early Christian funeral graffiti in the Catacombs of Callixtus, Rome

A new installment of my ongoing series through Eusebius's The Ecclesiastical History has been posted, with the addition of book 1, chapter 4: EH.1.4 (listen here).

Notes and Commentary:

In this chapter, Eusebius stresses that Christianity is not a religious novelty.

In Christ a “new race [neon … ethnos]” was created but one with ancient roots in the Jews, and even before then to the very first men.

He says, “The race of the Hebrews is not new but is honored among all men for its antiquity and is itself well known to all.”

According to Eusebius, there were godly Christians long before the Mosaic law and even before Abrham. Like Paul he points to Abraham and cites Genesis 15:6: “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness.” The promises made to Abraham are fulfilled in Christ.

So, Eusebius concludes, Christianity is not novel, but “primitive, unique, and true.”


Monday, March 04, 2019

More thoughts on the canonical structure of the OT and NT: Is there a grand unity?

A few more thoughts from Kruger’s discussion of canonical structure in the OT and NT from Canon Revisited (Crossway, 2012): 152-159.

First: Kruger suggests the possibility of a Moses-Elijah-David structure from OT to NT:

Kruger notes that each of the tripartite divisions of the Hebrew Bible (OT) end with focus on a key figure:

Law ends with Moses (Deut 34:12).

Prophets end with Elijah (Mal 4:5-6).

Writings ends with David [renewed Davidic hope for a temple in Jerusalem] (2 Chron 36:23).

In the NT Gospels this Moses-Elijah-David structure of the OT canon is “recapitulated and fulfilled” (155). See especially the Mount of Transfiguration where Moses and Elijah meet with Jesus, the Son of David (Matt 17; Mark 9; Luke 9).

Second: Kruger suggests the possibility of a seven-fold structure across the OT and NT of Christian Scripture:

He notes that alongside the threefold structure of the Hebrew Bible (OT):


there is a fourfold NT structure (again following Trobisch):

Praxapostolos (Acts and General Epistles)
Pauline letters

Together, they make seven units. Moreover, he notes parallels between the first (Genesis) and last (Revelation) books, which each focus on sevens. For Genesis there is the seven days of creation-Sabbath. For Revelation, there are letters to seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, etc. Genesis describes the creation of heaven and earth (Gen 1:1) and Revelation a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1). Genesis and Revelation form “an inclusio of sevens” (155).

Kruger also acknowledges that this suggestion of a “grand unity” of OT and NT might be dismissed by the skeptic “as coincidental or irrelevant” (157).

Indeed, there are some challenges to this view like:

Early Christians did not generally possess complete copies of the OT and NT as we have them today.

The NT was not apparently joined as one complete codex till the fourth century (see Trobisch).

The order of the books, especially in the Writings of the OT, may have varied.

Many early Christians might have been more influenced by the order of the books in the LXX than in the Hebrew Bible.

The idea of early Christians seeing their Bible as composed of seven units is an interesting speculation, but no Patristic citations are offered to show that any actually held this view. One might object, I suppose, that whether seen by them or not, the pattern was still there and perhaps was only to be appreciated by later generations.


Friday, March 01, 2019

The Vision (3.1.19): Behold the Man!

Image: Remains of the Administration Building of Perm-36, a Stalinist era Gulag in the Ural Mountains of Russia.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 19:1-12.

Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! (John 19:5).

In v. 5 the Lord Jesus himself, having been scourged and mocked, is brought forward by Pilate before the Jewish authorities. This is a new level of public humiliation.

Pilate declares, “Behold the man (anthropos, the human being)!” Many know this from the Latin translation: Ecce homo!

Something profound is being said here. Here is man as man should be. Here is the second Adam. Here is the Word made flesh. Here is the second person of the Godhead robed in frail humanity. And look what you have done to him! You have rejected him. You have scourged him. You have hated him. you have slapped him. You have spat upon him. You have mocked him.

This really becomes the central scandal of the Christian gospel. How can this man also be Lord? As Paul will write, “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Cor 1:23).

What applications might we draw?

First, we can mediate on Pilate’s declaration: Behold the man! Christ stands before us today. And he is the humiliated Christ, the crucified Christ. Will we turn our backs on him or, worse still, actively reject and attempt to suppress him? Or will we turn in repentance and faith to embrace him?
Second, will we follow in the footsteps of Christ? Christ was willing to suffer wrong and to trust in God alone to vindicate his cause. When Peter wrote to Christian servants he urged them to embrace that same attitude (see 1 Peter 2:19-25)” “because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example” (v. 21).
I recently read the book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by the Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The novel describes life in a Soviet prison camp during the Stalinist era, from the perspective of Shukhov (Ivan Denisovich), one of its unjustly imprisoned inmates. It is a place of misery and suffering. There is a recurrent character in the novel, one of Shukhov’s fellow prisoners, who is named Alyoshka, and who is most often referred to as, “the Baptist.” He and others from his “Baptist club” (as Shukhov calls it) were sentenced to twenty five years of hard labor, just because they were Baptists. The narrator describes the Baptist as praying, whispering to his fellow Baptists on Sundays, never stealing, copying the NT in his notebook, and, at one point near the end, telling his fellow prisoner, “Be glad you’re in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul.” The narrator adds: “You could tell from his voice and eyes that he was glad to be in prison.”
It is a picture of something that is true of Christians, because they follow the example of Christ. Even when suffering and exposed, even when the world points in derision and says, “Behold the man!” they know that all is well with them, because they trust the God who made them, the God who redeemed them, and the God who will vindicate them.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle