Saturday, March 30, 2019

WM 120: White, Krans, Erasmus, and Beza: "One Volume Destruction"?

Here are my notes:

After recent interactions with Calvinistic apologist JW regarding the 2019 Text and Canon Conference in Atlanta, scheduled for October 25-26, 2019 in Atlanta, I had been weighing the value of attempting to respond to any more of his misunderstandingsand misrepresentations of the traditional text position.

On one hand, I think there are diminishing returns to these interactions, especially since JW does not seem to be making much effort or progress toward attempting to understand or represent our position. When I have offered critiques in the past of JW’s views as expressed on the DL it has usually been in response to those who have asked me to do so.

On the other hand, I have been told that some have profited from these rejoinders and that the issues we will discuss in this issue might be helpful to some. I hope so.

Again, after the recent Atlanta controversy, I did listen to at least parts of several episodes of the DL, in which JW makes reference to an academic book by Jan Krans that supposedly serves as a “one volume destruction” of the confessional or traditional text position.

The book to which JW refers:

Jan Krans, Beyond What is Written: Erasmus and Beza as Conjectural Critics of the New Testament (Brill Academic, 2006).

Ironically enough, this book appears in the “New Testament Tools and Studies”, co-edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, as Volume 35.

In the acknowledgements, the author notes that this work is a revised edition of his 2004 PhD dissertation under professor Martin de Boer. Among those on his committee he lists text critic David Parker.

In light of what I believe are some problems, misunderstandings and inconsistencies in JW’s use of Krans, I thought it might be helpful to offer some analysis.

Beyond What is Written has a brief five-page General Introduction (1-5), and if you read that introduction you will immediately begin to see some of the problems inherent in JW’s attempt to use this book as a supposed “one volume destruction” of the confessional text position.

I will point to at least three important inconsistencies in JW’s use of Krans’s book:

First: JW does not acknowledge the underlying methodology represented in the Krans book, nor does he acknowledge its inconsistency with JW’s own methodology for doing text criticism.

I find it interesting that JW is making of the Krans book to attempt to refute the traditional text position given that Krans would see JW’s reconstructionist approach to recovering the “original autograph” as outdated.

That Krans sees his own work as part of the current shift in “postmodern” text criticism is made clear in the General Introduction to the work:

“With the method adopted here, the present study takes part in the current paradigm shift in New Testament Textual Criticism. Manuscripts are no longer seen as mere sources for variant readings, but also as historical products that deserve to be studied as wholes. Moreover, variants readings as such no longer function as stepping stones towards the ‘original’ text, to be disposed of once this (chimeric) goal has been attained, but they acquire historical importance as mirrors of scribal convictions and conventions” (3).

Note that Krans says that he has abandoned the “chimeric” goal of finding the original text. Chimeric definition: “hoped for but illusory and impossible to achieve.”

So, JW is using a source to fight against the traditional text position that is diametrically opposed to his own modern reconstructionist text position!

I recall hearing JW lamenting when Muslims use liberal, rationalistic scholarship on the Bible that they would never apply to the Koran. But, by using Krans he is essentially doing the same thing (making use of liberal, rationalistic scholarship) to refute the traditional text position. It is absolutely no surprise to learn that Krans’s work will not support the traditional text position, grounded as it is in a relativistic, naturalistic worldview. The irony is that JW could not use Krans’s method to support his own position. This is inconsistent.

Now, this is not meant to say that we cannot appreciate many aspects of Krans’s study. It is a formidable scholarly work. We would, however, be naïve if we did not consider the author’s method and worldview.

Second: JW fails to notice the distinction that Krans draws in the General Introduction between two distinct types of emendations which he suggests would have been used by scholars like Erasmus and Beza in their study of the text, and which JW might well have applied with profit to his study of the texts like Revelation 16:5.

Krans says, “In this period, emendation, the adoption of alternative readings, was done in two distinct ways, depending on the way these readings were found: they could either be derived from manuscripts or be arrived at by rational argument. Hence a distinction was made between emendatio codice ope (‘emendation by means of manuscripts’) and emendatio ingenii ope (‘emendation by means of reasoning’)” (4).

This takes us back to the question of Revelation 16:5 and how Beza arrived at the reading, “which art, and wast and shalt be [kai ho esomenos].”

In WM 117, I suggested that a key statement made by Beza himself in this textual commentary on the Greek text had apparently been misunderstood not only by KJV advocates (like the author of the article, “Beza and Revelation 16:5”; see WM 115) but also, especially, by JW in his discussion of this verse in his book The King James Version Only Controversy (2009).

Here is the statement by Beza with my translation:

Itaque ambigere non possum quin germana sit scriptura quam ex vetusto bonae fidei manuscripto codice restitui, nempe ο εσομενος.

“Therefore, I am not able to doubt but that the true reading should be as I have restored it from an ancient manuscript [hand-written] codex of good faith, truly ο εσομενος.

The problem is that both the KJV advocate and JW misunderstand this statement. They both think that Beza adopted this reading as an emendatio ingenii ope (‘emendation by means of reasoning’), rather than, as Beza clearly describes it, an  emendatio codice ope (‘emendation by means of manuscripts’).

To see clearly how clearly misunderstands this statement see what he writes:

“So why does the KJV read ‘and shalt be’? Because John Calvin’s successor at Geneva, Theodore Beza, conjectured that [sic] the original reading differently. To use his words, ‘ex vetusto bonae fidei manuscripto codice restitui.’ Beza believed that there was sufficient similarity between the Greek terms hosios and esomenos (the future form, ‘shall be’) to allow him to make the change to harmonize the text with other such language in Revelation. But he had no manuscript evidence in support of his conjecture” (The King James Only Controversy, 2009: 237).

Clearly, JW did not properly understand the Latin text he quotes from Beza, as Beza clearly states that he got this reading “from an ancient manuscript [hand-written] codex of good faith.” JW, instead, offers this faulty conclusion, “But he had no manuscript evidence in support of his conjecture.” Hopefully, JW will correct this error if he ever issues a third edition of this work.

Note also that according to the Scripture index in Beyond What is Written, Krans never addresses Revelation 16:5 as a conjecture.

BTW, after WM 117 came out, I corresponded with James Snapp, Jr. about my translation of Beza’s statement on Revelation 16:5.

And Snapp contracted Jan Krans to ask about this verse. I got this email from JSJ on 2.23.19:


Puzzled by Beza's note, I contacted Jan Krans and asked him about it.  Here's what he said:

I will have a new book this year, with among other things an update on the Beza part, and a lengthy treatment of this case [in Rev. 16:5] in particular. Shortest version: Beza states that he had a manuscript, but wrongly so, because he misinterpreted one of his own handwritten notes. It is therefore a conjecture, by Beza, but he would probably not have changed his text, had he not misunderstood his notes. In that case he would also have written a different annotation, probably with the conjecture as a suggestion only."

The points to take into consideration:

Jan Krans apparently agrees with my translation of Beza. Beza wrote that he got the reading he uses in his text from a manuscript.

Despite this, Krans apparently will make an argument in a forthcoming work that Beza was mistaken when he made this statement. He will argue that Beza misread his notes. We’ll have to wait to see what he writes, but it is hard to conceive that he will be able definitively to prove that Beza merely misread his notes. The more obvious conclusion is that he had what he says he had: a handwritten Greek codex that read ho esemenos. Beza’s reading at Revelation 16:5 came from a manuscript and not from bare reasoning.

The burden is on JW:

First, if he persists in saying my translation is wrong, he should provide his own translation of the Latin sentence he quotes in his book to show that my translation (supported by Krans) of Beza is wrong.

Second, he should concede that it is by no means fantastical to conceive the possibility that Beza had a Greek ms. which reflected the reading he adopted at Revelation 16:5 and that this ms. might have been lost. To deny the latter would be grossly inconsistent given that JW makes much of Erasmus’s supposedly faulty use of ms. 2814 for the ending of Revelation which, according to Kranz, “was lost for a long time” and was only “rediscovered in the middle of the nineteenth century by Franz Delitzsch” (Beyond What is Written, 54). Clearly, mss. used by the likes of Erasmus and Beza could be lost (and might also be recovered)!

Krans, for example, is much, much more judicious than JW, and rightly so, when he makes his argument. For example, at the close of his discussion of Erasmus’s text of Revelation, he says the following: “In conclusion, Erasmus treats the Greek text of the book of Revelation in a special way, at times providing Greek readings for which no manuscript sources is known” (58). That sentence reflects proper humility and circumspection. No manuscript sources may be known, but that does not mean they did not exist and were available to Erasmus in some form.

Third, JW fails to acknowledge one of the central themes of Krans’s work: that although Erasmus and Beza offered many conjectures (of both types as previously described) in their various writings, notes, and annotations, when it came to their printed texts of the Greek NT they were exceedingly careful and “conservative” in their transmission of the Greek received text.

Krans concludes his General Introduction with these words:

“It should finally be noted that most conjectures discussed in this study were never printed as part of the Greek New Testament. They have their Sitz-im-leben in annotations and commentaries. Indeed, a recurrent theme of this study is the tendency of Erasmus and Beza to propose conjectures without actually implementing them” (5).

Regarding Erasmus’s Greek text, Krans observes:

“Erasmus often insisted on both points, the subservient place of his translation vis-à-vis the ecclesiastical text, and his unwillingness to print a Greek text that differs from his manuscripts.” Krans’s point: Eramus had a high view of the Greek text and did not want to provide readings in his Greek text that were not based on extant Greek mss.” (20).

Krans then provides several quotes from Erasmus’s correspondence with Edward Lee on this point (see n. 32, 20), including:

“I only offer what I find in the Greek manuscripts.”

“Besides, we had not taken up the task of correcting Greek manuscripts, but of rendering faithfully what would be in them.”

In Krans’s conclusion to his study of Erasmus (chapter seven), he returns to this key theme of his work, noting “the place (or even Sitz-im-Leben) of most conjectures is in the Annotations, not the printed Greek or Latin text” (189). He adds: “The real conjectures are found somewhat hidden in a wealth of text-critical commentary, philological (semantic and grammatical) remarks, exegetical information and in fact all kinds of contemporary reflections and polemics that their versatile author was capable of producing” (189). Later, he even suggests that Erasmus “was also handicapped by his concept of the Graeca veritas, which he at least initially sought one-sidedly in the (Byzantine) Greek text” (189). Of course, what Krans sees as a handicap, we see as an advantage.

JW clearly does not acknowledge this central theme in Krans’s study, since it does not support his attack on the TR by way of attacking the scholarship of Erasmus.

Concluding thoughts:

These responses, of course, only touch the surface. Much, much more could be said.

Attacks on Erasmus have been taken up by many since the nineteenth century in their zeal to unseat the dominance of the TR. Although in the providence of God, Erasmus was used to bring the traditional text into print for the first time in 1516, the TR does not depend solely on him or his erudition. Nor does it depend on his theological orthodoxy, his theology of Scripture, or his view of canon (including the canonicity of Revelation). The text printed by Erasmus was studied, (in some cases) improved, in other cases simply affirmed, and published by sound Protestant and Reformed men (like Stephanus and Beza), till by 1633 it could be called by the Elzevirs the Textus Receptus. It was the basis of the Protestant Bible translations of the Reformation and post-Reformation period, as well as the prooftexts of the Protestant and Reformed confessions of faith. It remains formidable to this day, despite its critics, past and present.

For those interested in reading more about attempts to undermine the credibility of the TR by means of attacking Erasmus, see my article “Erasmus Anecdotes” in PRJ, vol. 9, no. 1 (2017): 101-112.

In a footnote in that article, I note that further work needs to be done on other Erasmus anecdotes (or scholarly legends): “This article has surveyed two such frequently shared anecdotes. Others, however, may also be worthy of further scrutiny, including the question of the number and quality of the Greek mss. which Erasmus used to create his Greek text, the origins of Codex 61, the mss. Erasmus made use of for his text of Revelation, and the supposed back-translation of the final verses of Revelation 22” (n. 41, p. 112).

For now, suffice to say that I believe there are many good reasons to believe that the entire back-translation of the final verses of Revelation account does not rest on solid foundations but was likely promoted, beginning in the nineteenth century, like other anti-Erasmus anecdotes, in order to undermine the reliability of the TR in favor of the then-emerging critical text. That study, however, will have to wait for another day….


Friday, March 29, 2019

The Vision (3.29.19): I Thirst

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 19:28-29.
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst (John 19:28).
As a man, on the cross, Christ thirsted. His thirst, no doubt, physically speaking, came from his experience of dehydration, not only through perspiration and lack of food and drink through that long night of trial, but also the copious loss of blood that had come through his scourging and crucifixion.
With respect to his divine nature, there was no thirst. God is without body, parts, and passions. God is characterized by aseity. He is satisfied in and of himself. God has no need of anything and lacks nothing. God does not thirst.
That did not change when God became man in Christ. With respect to Christ’s human nature, however, he did thirst.
John tells us that Christ cried out, “I thirst.” This thirst demonstrated his suffering on the cross and showed his true humanity.
J. C. Ryle observed:
“The expression ‘I thirst’ was chiefly used, I believe, in order to afford a public testimony of the reality and intensity of his bodily sufferings, and to prevent anyone supposing, because of his marvelous calmness and patience, that he was miraculously free from suffering. On the contrary, he would have all around him know that he felt what all severely wounded persons, and especially all crucified persons felt, --a burning and consuming thirst. So that when we read that ‘he suffered for our sins,’ we are to understand that he really and truly suffered.”
A fourth century Christian named Ephrem the Syrian wrote a hymn on the nativity of Christ in which he said: “He that gave food to all went in, and knew hunger. He who gave drink to all went in, and knew thirst” (as cited in Ratzinger, Church Fathers, 151).
Christ knew thirst for us, so that our spiritual thirst could be satisfied (cf. Heb 4:15).
A commentator (Quisnell), cited by Ryle observed, “The tongue of Jesus Christ underwent its own particular torment, in order to atone for the ill-use which men make of their tongues by blasphemy, evil-speaking, vanity, lying, gluttony, and drunkenness.”
In his comments on this verse, Matthew Henry compared it to Christ’s account of the thirst of the rich man in Hades in Luke 16. There, he notes, the torments of hell were represented by thirst. Henry adds: “To that everlasting thirst we had all been condemned, if Christ had not suffered on the cross, and said, ‘I thirst.’”
Christ indeed thirsted that we might be satisfied in him.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Eusebius, EH.1.12: The Seventy

Image: Icon of the "Seventy Apostles."

A new installment has been posted to the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 1, chapter 12 (Listen here).

Notes and Commentary:

Eusebius here discusses the “Seventy” who were sent out by Jesus, as recorded in Luke 10:1-20 (see vv. 1, 17).

Note: Eusebius is a witness for the traditional text reading of “seventy” (alongside Aleph, A, and W). Some modern translation, like the ESV and NIV, (following p75 and Vaticanus) read “seventy-two.” For my analysis of the text critical issues involved here, see this blog post.

Eusebius says there are no extant lists of the seventy, but suggests they included Barnabas, Sosthenes, “Cephas” (though according to Clement, not the Cephas [Peter] of Galatians 2:11), Matthias (who replaced Judas), and Thaddeus.

He then suggests Jesus has many other disciples, noting Paul’s reference to the more than five hundred brethren who saw the risen Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:6.

Of 1 Corinthians 15:7: “After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.”, he takes James as a reference to “one of the alleged brethren of the Lord.” He also assumes there were “numberless apostles, on the model of the twelve.” Here he takes “apostle” broadly, as in Acts 14:4, 14 (Barnabas and Paul), 2 Corinthians 8:23 (Titus), and Philippians 2:25 (Epaphroditus).

Later church traditions did, in fact provide a more extensive list of these disciples or apostles (see the Wikipedia article on “The Seventy Disciples”).


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Book Review: Harry Freedman's The Murderous History of Bible Translations

I have posted to my page my book review of Harry Freedman, The Murderous History of Bible Translations: Power, Conflict, and the Quest for Meaning (Bloomsbury Press, 2016): 256 pp., which appeared in Puritan Reformed Journal, Vol. 11, No. 1 (January 2019): 188-190 (read the review here).

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


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Eusebius, EH.1.11: Christ and John the Baptist

Image: Saint John the Baptist, tempera on panel, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c. 1290-1358)

A new installment has been added to the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 1, chapter 11 (Listen here).

Notes and Commentary:

Eusebius here discusses the life and death of John the Baptist. Rather than appeal to the Gospel accounts, he relies on Josephus, noting Herod the younger’s illicit and scandalous marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife.

He sees Josephus as confirming the historicity of the Gospel accounts, regarding John who, he notes, was “peculiarly righteous, and a Baptist.”

He also sees the eventual defeat and exile of Herod the younger and Herodias as divine punishment for their role in the death of John.

Eusebius also includes Josephus’s famous description of Jesus in Antiquities 18:63-64. Later scholars have suggested that Josephus’s report was expanded by Christian scribes. Indeed, the report seems like a Christian, rather than Jewish, description of Jesus. Still, it also grounds the lives of both John and Jesus in history, in contrast to apocryphal “Reports” (Lake notes this as another reference to the Acts of Pilate).


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.