Saturday, February 22, 2020

WM 153-157: 2019 Text and Canon Conference Audio

Many who have been following the development of the Confessional Text movement are already aware of the Text and Canon Conference, held on October 25-26, 2019 at Christ Reformed Church in Atlanta.

For those who have not yet listened to the lectures I gave at that conference, I have now posted them to CRBC's page, along with the Q & A session. Here are links:



Friday, February 21, 2020

The Vision (2.21.20): Yet the LORD would not destroy

Image: Winter sunset, February 2020, North Garden, Virginia

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on 2 Kings 8.

Yet the LORD would not destroy Judah for David his servant’s sake, as he promised him to give him always a light, and to his children (2 Kings 8:19).

2 Kings 8 is not an easy chapter to preach. As far as dynamic, easy to perceive spiritual truths, this chapter offers slim pickings. I am very doubtful that many Christians would list 2 Kings 8 as their favorite chapter in the Bible or claim that any verse within it is their favorite verse, or their “life verse.”

It is an overall depressing and discouraging chapter, because it describes the degeneracy, the depravity, and the wickedness of the circumstances into which both Israel and Judah fell during the time of the kings.

The thesis statement might well be found in v. 1: “for the LORD hath called for a famine.” 2 Kings 8 describes the spiritual wasteland that results when men walk away from the Lord and his ways.

The brightest point of light comes in v. 19, which begins, “Yet the LORD would not destroy Judah for David his servant’s sake….”

The remainder of the verse makes clear the reason for this mercy. It was because of the covenant promise that the LORD had made to David: “as he promised him to give him always a light, and to his children” (v. 19b).

The Lord had promised, through Nathan the prophet, “But my mercy shall not depart away from him” and that David’s house and his kingdom would be established forever (2 Sam 7:15-16). David became known as the “light of Israel” (see 2 Sam 21:17).

Despite Judah’s faithlessness, the point is that God remained faithful. The promise that was made to David would not be broken. But how was that promise ultimately fulfilled? Not in national Israel, but in spiritual Israel. Not in the kings of Judah, which would fall, but in a descendant of David, from the tribe of Judah, who would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David.

The apostle Paul in Galatians 6:16 would write to the churches of Galatia, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” The promise would be fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ to the new “Israel of God.”

2 Kings 8:19 points then toward the mercy of God given to sinners for the sake of Christ. In 2 Timothy 2:13, Paul wrote: “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” NKJV: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.”

This is God’s Word to his people today. We do not have faith in our faith. We have faith in a God who will not destroy us when we are faithless, for the sake of his faithful Son. Thanks be to him.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Eusebius, EH.6.26-32: Origen's Transition to Caesarea & Continuing Influence

Image: Modern view of the Roman amphitheater in Caesarea

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 6, chapters 26-32. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters continue to describe the life of Origen, focusing especially on his transition from Alexandria to Caesarea, noting various significant persons, places, and events of the times.

Chapter 26 describes Origen’s transition from Alexandria to Caesarea c. AD 232. He was succeeded as head of the Catechetical School by Heraclas, and when Demetrius died, Heraclas also became bishop of Alexandria.

Chapter 27 describes the esteem in which Origen was held by the bishops, including Firmilian of Cappadocian Caesarea, Alexander of Jerusalem, and Theoctistus of Palestinian Caesarea.

Chapter 28 turns to the Roman imperial succession. Alexander was succeeded by Maximin [Maximinus] Caesar. Maximin lead a persecution against Christians, many of whom were in the household of Alexander, and he ordered leaders of the church to be put to death. Among those who suffered in this persecution were Ambrose of Alexandria and Prototectus of Caesarea. At this time Origen wrote On Martydom and described the persecution in his exposition on the Gospel of John.

Chapter 29 begins by noting that Gordian succeeded Maximin as emperor.

In the church at Rome, meanwhile, Pontianus was succeeded by Anteros. When Anteros died a month later, he was succeeded by Fabian, whose appointment to the office came after a dove mysteriously flew down upon his head, a sign of the descent of the Holy Spirit, as when Christ was baptized.

In Antioch, Zebennus was succeeded by Babylas.

In Alexandria, again, Demetrius was succeeded by Heraclas as bishop. In the Catechetical School, Heraclas was succeeded by Dionysius, who also had been a student of Origen.

Chapter 30 describes the students, local and foreign, who flocked to Origen at Caesarea. They included two brothers: Theodore (later known as Gregory Thaumaturgus, or the “Wonder Worker”) and Athenodore. Origen taught them for five years and lead them from a love of secular philosophy to a love of divine truth, and both became bishops as young men.

Chapter 31 describes Africanus, author of the Cesti [literally “embroidered girdles,” like Stromateis, meaning a collection of varied works].

He is said to have written to Origen and been answered by him regarding the authenticity of the story of Susanna, an apocyryphal addition to Daniel.

He also wrote the Chronographies.

He is said to have traveled to Alexandria on hearing of the fame of Heraclas.

Eusebius notes that another of his letters to Aristides is extant in which he offered a harmony of the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, and to which Eusebius had referred earlier in the EH.

Chapter 32 describes Origen’s commentaries on Isaiah, Ezekiel (a work completed while Origen visited Athens), and the Song of Songs (begin in Athens and finished in Caesarea).

Eusebius notes that in his life of his mentor Pamphilius he had described Pamphilius’s great library and his list of the works of Origen and other church writers. He says he has no need to list Origen’s complete works here, since it appeared in the other work.


These chapters continue the life of Origen, noting how in his transition from Alexandria to Caesarea his influence was not lessened, as he continued to teach, write, and exert his influence upon many.


Monday, February 17, 2020

Eusebius, EH.6.23-25: Origen's Commentaries & Canon

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 6, chapters 23-25. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters describe Origen’s various commentaries on Scripture and on the canon of Scripture.

Chapter 23 notes that Origen’s commentaries on Scripture were instigated by his friend and patron Ambrose of Alexandria. Ambrose provided him with seven scribes and seven copyists, as well as girls “skilled in penmanship,” to write down his commentaries, in turn, as he dictated them.

Mention is made of Pontianus succeeding Urban in Rome, and Zebennus following Philetus in Antioch.

It is noted again how Origen came to Palestine and was ordained an elder in Caesarea, and how this led to controversy.

Chapter 24 traces various of Origen’s writings, noting how some were began while he was in Alexandria and completed after the left. These include his Expositions on the Gospel according to John and On Genesis. Other works are noted as having been completed in Alexandria, including his commentaries on the first 25 Psalms and on Lamentations, as well as the works On the Resurrection, De Principiis, and Stromateis.
Chapter 25 offers insights on Origen’s understanding of the canon.

It is noted that in his exposition on Psalm 1 he states that the OT consisted of 22 books, matching the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. A list is then given of these books, with a transcription of their Hebrew titles. Beyond these, there is mentioned the Maccabees.

Next it is noted that in his commentary on Matthew, he describes the four canonical Gospels, written in the order of Matthew-Mark-Luke-John and affirms the traditional view of their authorship.

And in his expositions on John, he discusses the NT epistles of Paul, and the epistles of Peter. It is noted that 1 Peter was acknowledged as genuinely Petrine, but some doubted the authenticity of 2 Peter. John is credited with the Apocalypse (Revelation) and 1 John, but questions are raised about the authenticity of 2-3 John. No mention is made of James or Jude.

Origen is cited as saying that Hebrews did not have Paul’s typical “rudeness of speech.” Origen said the thoughts of Hebrews were Pauline but not the style. He offers his famous assessment: “But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows.” He also conveys traditions that suggest Clement or Luke as the author of Hebrews.


These chapters are helpful in sketching Origen as a Scripture commentator under the support of Ambrose of Alexandria. Especially valuable are his insights on canon in approving the standard Jewish OT canon (without the apocrypha) and the traditional NT canon, with questions raised about 2 Peter, and 2-3 John, while James and Jude are not mentioned. Of interest as well are his comments on the authorship of Hebrews.


Saturday, February 15, 2020

WM 152: Hixson, Mark's Ending, Medieval Scribes, and Modern Bibles

I have posted WM 152: Hixson, Mark's Ending, Medieval Scribes, and Modern Bibles. Listen here.

In this episode I offer a review of an article by Elijah Hixson titled "Was Mark 16:9-20 originally part of Mark's Gospel?" which appeared on the Gospel Coalition blog on 2.13.20. Read the article here.

Here are a few resources I mentioned in my review:

On the ending of Mark:

On the Syriac and Mark's ending:

On the "romance" of uncertainty:

Blessings, JTR

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Vision (2.14.20): Windows in Heaven

Image: Winter sunset, February 2020, North Garden, Virginia

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on 2 Kings 7.

Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God and said, Behold, if the LORD make windows in heaven might this thing be? (2 Kings 7:2a).

Israel was besieged and starving. What meager food remained was astronomical in price. A donkey’s head sold for 80 pieces of silver and a handful of dove dung for five pieces of silver (2 Kings 6:25).

Elisha, however, prophesied that by the next day, fine flour and barley would sell for a mere shekel in the gates of Samaria (2 Kings 7:1).

The king’s counselor was incredulous. How could this be, even if the Lord opened “windows in heaven” (v. 2a)?

Think about this reference to windows in heaven. What does it mean? Clearly it is figurative language. It is a way of expressing the providential blessings of God, that which falls from above. In Malachi 3:10 the Lord challenges Israel to bring the whole tithe into storehouse to see if he would not open “the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”

This counselor’s protest was not only a challenge to Elisha as God’s prophet, but also to the character and goodness of God, as well as the sovereignty of God. He’s not good enough to want to do this. He’s not powerful enough to do it.

We might consider our own state at times to be like that of Samaria in those days. Perhaps we feel we are beset, besieged, beleaguered. And God’s Word promises a tomorrow that seems out of reach.

He promises that he will supply all our needs. “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).

He promises to satisfy our deepest longings. “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

He promises to work all things for your good (Rom 8:28).

He promises that present distresses are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us (Rom 8:18).

He promises that those who trust in him will one day experience the resurrection to life (1 Cor 15:51-53) and that there is land fairer than day where there will be no more tears (Rev 21:4).

The challenge: Will we believe the promises of God? Will we believe that he is all-good and all-powerful, and he can open the windows in heaven to pour out such blessings on us that there is not room enough to receive it?

Elisha’s word was fulfilled, and the unbelieving counselor was trampled in the gate and died (2 Kings 7:20). Let us be warned, fear, and believe.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Eusebius, EH.6.20-22: Learned Churchmen & Origen's Interview with Mamaea

Image: Defaced bust of Julia Avita Mamaea (c. 180-235), mother of the Emperor Alexander Severus. British Museum, London.

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 6, chapters 20-22. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters describe various “learned churchmen” who lived and ministered around the time of Origen. It is also keen to discuss the transitions in Roman imperial power.

Chapter 20 notes that the letters of these various churchmen were readily available in the library (bibliothēke) in Aelia (the name given Jerusalem after the failed second Jewish War), where Alexander was bishop.

Among these were:

Beryllus, bishop of the Arabians at Bostra.

Hippolytus “who also presided over another church somewhere” (!).

Gaius, who wrote the Dialogue of Gaius against Proclus of the Phrygians (Montanists), during the time of Zephyrinus of Rome. Eusebius says Gaius curbed the heretics in their audacity to write “new Scriptures [kainas graphas].” He adds that Gaius and the Romans held to only 13 Pauline epistles, excluding Hebrews (as being Pauline).

Chapter 21 describes transitions in Roman Emperors from Antoninus to Macrinus (c. 217) to another Antoninus (Elegabalus).

This is paralleled by transitions in the Roman church from the leadership of Zephyrinus to Calistus to Urban.

Back to the emperors, it is noted that Alexander (Severus) rose to rule.

While in the church at Antioch, Philetus succeeded Asclepiades as bishop.

The chapter closes with an anecdote to illustrate Origen’s “universal” fame, suggesting that (Julia Avita) Mamaea, mother of Alexander Severus, brought him to Antioch, under military escort, so she could hear his teaching.

Chapter 22 turns to describe the writings of the aforementioned Hippolytus, which included these eight writings:

On the Pascha.

On the Hexamaëron.

On what followed the Hexamaëron.

Against Marcion.

On the Song.

On Parts of Ezekiel.

On the Psacha.

Against All the Heresies.

Eusebius adds that he wrote many other things as well.


In these chapters Eusebius is keen to note that Origen was not alone as a Christian writer and thinker in his age, but he was joined by others. As we have become accustomed, Eusebius again lists the succession of the Emperors in parallel with the succession of the bishops in key cities. So, there are secular and ecclesiastical transitions. Of note is the meeting of Origen with the regent Mamaea, mother of Alexander Severus. She is described as “a religious woman if ever there was one.” This illustrates that the Romans at the highest levels were becoming aware of and trying to understand the nascent Christian movement.


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Christian McShaffrey: "What, Are You ESV-Only?" A Brotherly Inquiry

My friend Christian McShaffrey, Pastor of Five Solas OPC in Reedsburg, Wisconsin and host of the upcoming "Kept Pure in All Ages" conference, has written an on-point article titled, "What, are you ESV-Only?". Pastor McShaffrey makes some great points in this article. Give it a read. 


Monday, February 10, 2020

Eusebius, EH, 6:18-19: Origen, Porphyry, and the Greek Philosophers

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 6, chapters 18-19. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters focus on Origen and his connections with Greek philosophy.

Chapter18 begins by describing Origen’s influence on a man named Ambrose in moving him away from the heresy of the Valentinians. Many other “cultured persons” were also drawn to Origen given his competence in secular Greek philosophy.

Chapter 19 describes how Origen was criticized by the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry of Sicily in his writings against Christians. A citation is given from Porphyry who accused Origen of making “riddles” of Moses by finding in him “hidden mysteries.” Porphyry says that while Origen was a Christian in manner of life, in philosophy he “played the Greek, and introduced Greek ideas into foreign fables.” Eusebius notes that Porphyry’s descriptions of Origen are sometimes accurate but at other times show confusion. For example, he says Origen came to Christianity from the Greeks when he was, in fact, raised in a Christian family, and he falsely says that one of Origen’s teacher Ammonius eventually lapsed back into paganism.

At the close of the chapter Eusebius notes how Origen was sent by Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, on a diplomatic mission to Arabia, and how Origen secretly left Alexandria during a time of warfare for Caesarea in Palestine. While there, though not ordained, he publicly expounded Scripture on the invitation of local bishops. This led to controversy when Demetrius objected that laymen should not preach. Eusebius defends Origen’s actions. Eventually Origen returned to Alexandria to continue his labors there.


Eusebius continues his glowing report on the life of Origen. These chapters focus on Origen’s abilities to interact with Greek philosophy and to incorporate into his understanding of Christianity. For this he was criticized by pagan philosophers like Porphyry. It also gives insight into the conflict with Demetrius over Origen’s ministry in Palestine.


Friday, February 07, 2020

The Vision (2.7.20): The Saint of God is Never Outnumbered

Image: Winter sunset, February 2020, North Garden, Virginia

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on 1 Kings 6.

And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them (2 Kings 6:16).

2 Kings 6 describes how the king of Syria sent his forces by night to encircle and capture the prophet Elisha at Dothan. The next morning the prophet’s servant saw the Syrian forces and told Elisha, “Alas, my master! How shall we do?” (v. 15b).

Elisha’s response in v. 16 is the key to whole chapter. It is the spiritual center of this narrative.

First, Elisha says, “Fear not.” Elisha’s “fear not” is a call to trust and confidence in God even in the worst of circumstances.

The Southern General Thomas Jackson was famous for his indifference to the bombs and bullets that flew and fell around him, because he was a staunch Calvinist and believed in the providence of God. So, he got the name “Stonewall” for his ability to stand unmoved in the face of the direst circumstances.

Then Elisha said, “for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (v. 16).

He knew that the Lord and his great hosts were there to protect him. It anticipates the word of the apostle John: “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

The saint of God is never outnumbered!

Notice next it says, “And Elisha prayed…” (v. 17). The greatest men of God are men of prayer. The veil was lifted so that the servant saw that the mountains around Elisha were thick with horses and chariots of fire. (v. 17). There was a hedge of protection!

The Lord had extended his own hand to protect his servant. The saint of God is never outnumbered.
Paul said that the Old Testament was written “for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom 15:4).
What can we learn? When we are encircled with foes, we can trust God; we can remember that we are never alone; and we can pray
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, February 06, 2020

WM 151: Review: McDonald on Erasmus, the CJ, Foucault, and "Epistemes"

WM 151: Review: McDonald on Erasmus, the CJ, Foucault, and “Epistemes” has been posted. Listen here.

This episode is a reading of a draft of my review of:

Grantly McDonald, Biblical Criticism in Early Modern Europe: Erasmus, the Johannine Comma and Trinitarian Debate (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016): 384 pp.

Here is the closing analysis:

This work represents a significant contribution to the reception history of the Johannine Comma from Erasmus to the present. Any future study of this controversial New Testament passage will need to consult, benefit from, and make reference to this work.  This reviewer is especially appreciative of McDonald’s debunking of the Erasmian “myths” that have developed relating to his inclusion of the comma in the third edition of the Dutch scholar’s Greek New Testament, as well those relating to the history and influence of Codex Montfortianus.

One of the most intriguing ideas put forward by McDonald in this study is his analysis and application of Michael Foucault’s concept of the “episteme” to understand the division that has resulted over the acceptance of the comma. An “episteme” is defined as “an internally consistent mode of conceiving the world that determines which questions may conceivably be asked, and thus judged to be either true or false” (146). In what he calls “the premodern episteme” critical thought was “subordinated to a theological a priori” (146). This meant, for example, “it was almost inconceivable to doubt the inspiration of Scripture” (146). With the development of the historical-critical method, beginning with Richard Simon and Baruch Spinoza, critical questions were disconnected from theological ones. Though McDonald does not use this term, we might call it the “modern episteme.” Rather than one episteme neatly yielding sequentially to the next, as Foucault envisioned it, McDonald suggests that “the episteme that existed before Spinoza and Simon never ended. Rather their work fractured the hermeneutical consensus, leading to a situation in which two epistemes came to exist in parallel” (147). McDonald describes these two parallel epistemes as follows:

One maintains an essentially premodern attitude towards Scripture, submitting judgement in textual matters to the ultimate criterion of doctrine, while the other has accepted, internalized and built upon the insights of Spinoza and Simon, using the tools of philology, history and sociology to illuminate the beginnings of Christianity (147).

He concludes, “I suggest that many of the conflicts between academic liberal critics and conservative apologists arise out of a basic epistemological incompatibility” (147). It is this fundamental “epistemological incompatibility” that compels disagreement over the Johannine Comma as those who hold the “premodern episteme” continue to a affirm it, while those who hold the “modern episteme” continue to reject it.

According to McDonald then, the reception of the comma represents a proverbial “fork in the road.” As he puts it, “One path was followed by those who insisted on the providential preservation of Scripture. The other was taken by those who believe that Scripture, whatever its source, is subject to the same process of transmission as any other text” (12). The story that results is one of “constantly competing claims, in which outcomes are rarely clear and motives are often obscure” (12).

McDonald is hardly sympathetic to those who continue to uphold the comma against the modern scholarly “consensus”, held since the mid-twentieth century, that the “three heavenly witnesses” passage is a spurious and late “interpolation” (9).  He associates renewed debate over the comma to the “revival of the Christian right,” conspiracy theories, and internet discussions, where it has become a “hot-button issue” (9). McDonald suggests, “As a result of an informational cascade amongst non-scholarly believers, the divide between academic consensus and lay conviction is growing” (9). What McDonald does not explicitly seem to acknowledge is that he is hardly a neutral observer. He holds, in fact, to the “modern episteme,” which he so helpfully describes. Nevertheless, McDonald is to be thanked not only for his historical review of the various clashes over the comma, but also for his insights on the epistemological divide over this matter. To paraphrase the poet Robert Frost, when we come to the comma as a fork in the road, the path we take does indeed make all the difference.

Jeffrey T. Riddle, Pastor, Christ Reformed Baptist Church, Louisa, Virginia

Matthew Poole on the king's speech in 2 Kings 6:33

2 Kings 6:33 And while he yet talked with them, behold, the messenger came down unto him: and he said, Behold, this evil is of the LORD; what should I wait for the LORD any longer?

I was preaching last Sunday on 2 Kings 6 and was struck by the Puritan exegete Matthew Poole’s interpretation of the words of the king’s messenger, the king's speech let's call it, to the prophet Elisha, after the king (likely Jehoram, though he is unnamed) had seen the despair of his besieged people (the terrible account of the woman who boiled and ate her son in vv. 28-29) and threatened the life of the prophet (v. 31).

Here is Poole’s interpretation of the king’s message:

This evil; this dreadful famine, which is now so extreme that women are forced to eat their own children.

Is of the LORD; he hath inflicted it (and for aught that I see) he will not remove it. Thus he lays all the blame upon God, not, as he ought, upon his own and his mother’s wickedness, which provoked God, who doth not willingly afflict, to send his heavy judgment upon him.

What should I wait for the LORD any longer? Thou biddest me wait upon God for help; but I perceive I may wait long enough before deliverance comes; I am weary with waiting, I can wait no longer.


Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Eusebius, EH.6.16-17: Origen's Hexapla

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 6, chapters 16-17. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters discuss perhaps Origen’s most celebrated work, the Hexapla.

Chapter 16 notes how Origen learned the Hebrew language and collected editions and translations of the Hebrew Bible, including that of the Septuagint (the “Seventy”), Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotian.

This was his celebrate Hexapla. Oulton notes that is was arranged in six columns: (1) the Hebrew; (2) a transliteration of the Hebrew into Greek letters; (3) Aquila; (4) Symmachus; (5) the Septuagint; and (6) Theodotian.

Eusebius says that in the Psalms of this edition three other Greek translations were added (a fifth, sixth, and seventh).

He also produced an edition that only held the main four Greek translations, called the Tetrapla.

Chapter 17 provides further details about Symmachus. He is described as part of the Ebionite heresy. The Ebionites denied the virgin birth and the deity of Jesus, as well as advocating the strict keeping of the Jewish law. Eusebius says that Symmachus’ memoirs were extant and in his writings he opposed the Gospel of Matthew. He adds that Origen had gotten his material by Symmachus from a woman named Juliana.


Origen’s Hexapla was indeed a key work in the history of early Christianity. Its production reflected and influenced the centrality of Hebrew as the authoritative original language text for the Old Testament, by which Greek translation of it were to be measured. This would, in turn, influence Jerome in his translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin, and this view would eventually influence the Protestant Reformers who saw Hebrew as the immediately inspired language for the Old Testament.


Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Q & A on John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Gospels

I responded to an email message today from a student in my New Testament and Early Christianity class and thought others might be interested in this.

The question:


I have a question for you about the bible.

So John the Baptist was Elizabeth and Zecharias' son right?  But in the interactions between Jesus and him do not portray anything of them having known each other before.  I know he is wise enough because the Lord has opened his eyes about the fact that Jesus is Lord and the son of God but he does not act like he knows Jesus.

My response:

Good insight. Yes, the only place where it is said that John and Jesus were related is in Luke 1-2, but in the other Gospels it does not seem that Jesus and John know of each other as having a family relation.

This would be an example of an "apparent" contradiction in the Gospel accounts. The skeptical critical scholars would see this as an outright contradiction and suggest that Luke's account of their family relationship is not historical but that Luke was attempting to blend a tradition about the birth of John and one about the birth of Jesus. Traditional Christians, however, believe that the Gospels are historically reliable. They would seek to harmonize the "apparent" discrepancy by some reasonable explanation. In this case, one explanation might be that since John's parents were old when he was born (Luke 1:7) that they both died when he was young, and he was raised without an awareness of his kinship relationship with Jesus.

At any rate, one thing to consider is that early Christians did not think it was contradictory to have both accounts in the NT (Luke's account of John, alongside the other Gospel accounts). They did not see them as contradictory.


Rejoinder to Hixson on the CJ: Part Three of Three

Note; This concludes a series of three rejoinders, based on three comments, posted by Dr. Elijah Hixson (EH) to my blog article on WM 149.

Now on to Rejoinder, part three of three (EH's comments in blue and my responses in black):

Introduction: Before I begin to respond to EH’s second point below (continuing from his “three main headings of responses”), I need to try to make sense of what I think EH is trying to do here. In this second point EH seems to be giving advice to me and other TR advocates to explain to us the circumstances under which our defense of the TR would be acceptable to him. It gets a little convoluted, so I’ll try to break it down as best I can, bit by bit, as we proceed:

(3/3) 2. Specifically: “Because this likely does not fit with EH’s assumption that defense of the TR can only be perceived as a variety of KJV-O.” Well, that is not my assumption, but I would say that’s one way it could be defended.

JTR: Again, EH begins by quoting me. He then denies that he assumes that defense of the TR is necessarily KJVO (“Well, that is not my assumption…”). As previously noted, can I assume then that this means EH would disagree with those like Mark Ward who insist any defense of the TR must necessarily be considered a variety of KJVO? If so, great.

Next, EH apparently says, however, that holding to KJVO would, in fact, be one way that the TR could be reasonably defended: “…but I would say that’s one way it could be defended.” Really? For the record, I do not believe the TR can be defended from a true KJVO position, since it would contradict WCF/SD/2LBCF 1:8 in that it would deny that the Scriptures are only immediately inspired in the original Hebrew and Greek.

(1) If there was something ‘special’ about the Reformation, then the CJ becomes more defensible. However, too little continuity with what came before the Reformation is a move in the direction of KJVO, where something special happened at around the time of the Reformation. ‘Kept pure in all ages’ only works if it is consistent with ‘all ages’, so the bits before the Reformation are every bit as important to that claim as the bits after the Reformation. However, if you lay that aside and place special emphasis on the Reformation, you avoid that problem.

JTR: Now, under this second point on his “three main headings of response” (I said it would get convoluted!) EH begins to list four options/conditions under which, in his opinion, the TR (and thus the CJ) could be reasonably defended.

This first point is that the CJ could be hypothetically "more defensible” if it were proven that there was something “special” about the Reformation.

At this point I am beginning to wonder if I really need to argue with and prove to a fellow Protestant evangelical (of some stripe) that there was something providentially “special” about the Reformation.

EH next says that if one sees “too little continuity” between pre-Reformation and Reformation Christianity then the only way he can defend the TR is via some variety of KJVO. He then instructs us that the Westminster phrase “kept pure in all ages” “only works” if, indeed, it means “all ages” (every historical era?). If we hold to discontinuity with previous eras and that the Reformation era was truly "special", then our view is not tenable.

It’s really hard to know where to begin in responding to this. Here are a few tries:

First, as a confessional Protestant, I cannot lay aside my belief that the Reformation was a time of special providential importance.

Second, to insist on the special importance of the Reformation is not, in any way, to deny all continuity with previous Christian tradition. Take, for example, the Protestant orthodox articulation of the doctrine of God and of Christ in the WCF/SD/2LBCF. With respect to theology, it reflects the classical orthodox affirmation of the Trinity, the simplicity, and the immutability of God, etc. With respect to Christology, it reflects the classic creedal and Chalcedonian view of Christ as one person, with two natures, true God and true man. In other respects, however, there is, of course, discontinuity between the confession and some strands of pre-Reformation Christianity. The Reformation saw, for example, the retrieval of the apostolic doctrine of justification, that doctrine on which the church either stands or falls. It was a watershed, in particular, for the confessional definition of the doctrine of Scripture, including the canon of Scripture, even provoking Rome at Trent to articulate her own counter-Reformation doctrine of Scripture (wrongly affirming the books of the Apocrypha as part of the OT canon and making the Latin Vulgate, not the Hebrew and Greek originals, the standard for faith and practice).

I find the argument here to be particularly curious with respect to the CJ. Which shows greater continuity with the Christian tradition: the reception of the CJ or the rejection of it? I’ve already pointed out the star-studded list of Christian theologians in the pre-Reformation era who affirmed it (from Bernard of Clairvaux to Thomas Aquinas). And it was affirmed by the Protestant orthodox too. Clearly, it is those who reject the CJ who are denying proper continuity between the pre-Reformation and Reformation churches.

Third, “kept pure in all ages” does not mean that there was access to the true text ubiquitously or universally, but it does mean that the true text was always kept pure by God’s own “singular care and providence” in all ages, including during the momentous age of the printing press, the Reformation, the production of printed texts, and the multiplication of Protestant translations, when wide access and consensus was achieved. It certainly does not mean preserved in the mass of extant mss. until scholars in the nineteenth century could began to attempt to put the puzzle pieces together again. I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but please read Muller and Milne to grasp what “kept pure in all ages” meant to the Protestant orthodox, rather than attempting to impose an alien definition on a confessional phrase.

Fourth, I’m really at a loss as to how one can suggest if we maintain there was discontinuity between the pre-Reformaton and Reformation eras, and we maintain that "something special" happened at the Reformation, then we “move in the direction of KJVO.” For one thing such a statement is simply a historical anachronism, given that the intellectual, theological, and spiritual basis for defense of the traditional text came long before the KJV was ever printed.

Conclusion: Option one rejected.

(2) Another way the CJ becomes defensible for TR advocates is if you admit that the TR has errors but as it is especially blessed by God through its use in the Reformation, it is a trustworthy text that could be treated as if it were infallible even if it is not in actuality. I’ve seen one of the more open TR advocates admit something like this before.

JTR: EH next “generously” provides a second way in which we might possibly make the TR position acceptable in his sight. According to EH, we could possibly do the following: first, admit the TR has errors; second, treat it as infallible “even if it is not in actuality.”

This calls to mind how a secular skeptic might possibly speak to a traditional Christian. He might say, You know I could accept your Christian view of the Bible if you would only do two things: first, admit that your Bible is not infallible; second, feel free to “pretend” as if it actually is, even though it isn’t. Would any Christian worth his salt accept such a deal? Hardly.

Here is why we cannot accept this option: We believe that the TR is the true text of the NT. Please see Richard Brash’s work on the Protestant orthodox affirmation of the “practical univocity” between the autographa and the apographa (represented in the printed editions of the TR). If we were to say that there were errors in the TR this would be tantamount to saying there are errors in the Bible. It would deny the authority, inspiration, and preservation of Scripture. We do not want merely to act “as if” we have the Word of God in our hands. We know we have the Word of God in our hands.

Conclusion: Option 2 rejected.

There are two other ways to defend the CJ though. (3) One is simply to admit that all of the Greek manuscript evidence is against the TR but buckle down on the fact that it’s not an evidence-based position. I think this is what you try to do, and most TR advocates back into this corner, but not before misusing evidence. That runs dangerously close to ‘divers weights and divers measures’ (Prov. 20:10). Remember, it was you who appealed to GA 177 as evidential support for the CJ, but now I am wrong for critiquing your use of evidence? The better way would be just to admit that in many cases the evidence is against the TR and not to try to misuse the evidence to support it when it doesn’t.

JTR: EH next provides us with a third option for making the TR position acceptable in his sight. Yet, he presents this third option, but then, just as quickly as he offers it, he rejects it himself. Did I say that this gets convoluted?

Let’s first look at EH’s third option, before he rejects it. He says one might “admit that all the Greek evidence is against the TR but buckle down on the fact that it is not an evidence-based position.” He says he thinks this is what I (JTR) try to do, and it results in “misusing evidence” (bringing up again my 2010 blog article on ms. 177 as exhibit “A” for my crime of misuse of evidence!).

Again, no sooner is this option offered, but it is rejected, as EH instructs: “The better way would be just to admit that in many cases the evidence is against the TR and not to try to misuse the evidence to support it when it doesn’t.”

How do we begin to respond to this? I think the main problem is that EH cannot seem to grasp that there might be another way to approach the text of Scripture, other than using the “reconstruction method.” The confessional TR position does not, in any way, shape, or form “admit that all the Greek evidence is against the TR.” In many cases, as with the traditional ending of Mark, the extant external ms. evidence clearly favors the TR. At the same time, the TR position also readily acknowledges that some TR readings do not have strong or available extant external support. The main point, however, is that we hold that the best text is not the hypothetical approximation offered in the modern critical text, based on its survey of the extant ms. evidence, but the providentially preserved text of the Protestant church.

I notice that EH does not point to any specific examples of “misuse” of evidence, other than my brief mention in a 2010 blog article of Dan Wallace’s discovery of the CJ in the margin of ms. 177 as another witness in support of the tenacity of the CJ in the Christian tradition. See part one of this rejoinder for a response to this charge.

Conclusion: Option 3 rejected.

(4) The final way to defend the CJ is to do actual work in evidence to show why my conclusions are wrong and yours are correct. This has never been done to my knowledge, which brings be to point 3:

JTR: The final option seems more like an ultimatum. We can defend the TR, if we do “actual work in evidence.” Presumably this means we begin to make use of reasoned eclectic modern text criticism. Interesting. Which method of reasoned eclecticism would EH suggest I use to do “actual work in evidence”? Should I make use of the CBGM? Or should I adopt the method used by those who made the THGNT? What about thoroughgoing eclecticism? Is that still an option?

With all due respect, I have taken a look at modern text criticism, and it looks like an Enlightenment influenced dead end to me. Haven’t the cutting-edge scholars in the field themselves suggested that the finding the “original text” is only an elusive chimera?

No thanks, I’ll stick with the confessional text position, even if this does not measure up as “actual work” in the eyes of reasoned eclectics.

Conclusion: Option 4 rejected.

3. On 429mg, you neglected to mention my observation (at least in the written form here; my apologies if you discuss it in the audio version) for why it was copied from Erasmus’ third edition when you simply dismissed my conclusion as circular reasoning. Perhaps this was a simple mistake on your part.

JTR: I think this would have been a point where EH would indeed have profited from listening to the audio, before assessing my critique. I plainly stated in the audio that, as tempting as it might be, I would not have time to cover in detail each of EH’s observations on these mss., but I would focus on what he said was his special interest: the supposed significance of the RC provenance for some of these mss. and how this contradicted defense of the TR.

I claimed that the CJ was copied from Erasmus’ third edition in 429mg because the annotator of 429 copied many notes and in some cases explicitly wrote Erasmus as a source. Instead of concealing that fact (for which I even put up a picture) and dismissing my conclusion as circular reasoning, the better way would be to work through 429 (or at least in a large enough section to be representative), look at the annotations that do explicitly list Erasmus as a source and compare those to the ones that do not list Erasmus as a source, paying attention to how closely they do/do not align with Erasmus’ text and making observations there. Simply dismissing an argument is not the same as working through the same data and giving a better argument.

JTR response: EH’s discussion of 429 in the original blog article was brief (210 words) and dependent, by his acknowledgement, on Wachtel. EH now takes exception to my even briefer critique of his analysis (79 words).

Despite the brevity of EH’s analysis, he offers some very definitive conclusions. The article begins, “GA 429 is itself 14th century, but the marginal addition of the CJ happened after 1522. We know that because it was copied from Erasmus’ third edition.” It concludes, “429marg is not a witness to a pre-Erasmian CJ.” I am wondering how Bruce Metzger, the master of nuance, might have worded these things. My guess is he would have reached similar conclusions but seeded in some humble tentativeness. I could see him writing: “…but the marginal addition of the CJ most likely happened after 1522.” And, “429marg is very likely not a witness to a pre-Erasmian CJ.”

This relates to the primary thrust I was making in my very brief response, when I asked the following series of questions: “Would not even EH concede that this conclusion must remain speculative? Can the CJ addition to 429 be conclusively proven to have been copied from Erasmus’s third edition? What if the 429marg and the third edition of Erasmus were both dependent on a common source of unknown date?” After all, EH notes that this ms. includes some notes where explicit mention is made of Erasmus, but there is no note that explicitly says the marginal addition was taken from Erasmus, right? So, EH’s conclusion is possible, maybe even probable, but it cannot be definitively proven, right?

What seems to have hit a more tender spot, was my question, “Does this risk circular reasoning?” I also raised this question in relation to the analysis of ms. 918. Is it inappropriate to ask whether or not one might have an assumption or presupposition, like the possibility that the CJ was added to older manuscripts from printed editions of the TR, which might influence his conclusion and preclude the entertainment of other possibilities for explaining the phenomenon?

I do not believe I was “simply dismissing” EH’s argument, but I was asking reasonable questions about it.

This reaction called to mind a comment made by Robert W. Yarbrough in his book Clash of Visions, in which he notes how “the elitist guild consensus” can function “like the papal magisterium,” adding, “Against these truths no warranted objections are possible” (37).

Interestingly enough, EH also suggests that I should not have asked these questions until after “working through the data and giving a better argument.” But let’s face it, these were sections of blog articles for both of us (of 210 and 79 words respectively), and neither of us have done extensive study of this ms.

If the TR position is not evidence-based, then why dismiss my conclusions like this while ignoring my main observation and not giving an alternative assessment of the data?

JTR: Just because the TR position does not rely on reconstruction should not mean that we cannot make observations on the current external evidence or someone’s assessment of it, should it? After all, I was reviewing EH’s article on these mss. I was not making or defending an evidence-based argument in favor of the CJ. I hardly dismissed EH’s argument (a link was given for anyone to read his article for himself), but I did offer at least the possibility of an alternative explanation, based on the summary presented.

I’m sure you can see how many people might think evidence matters more to TR advocates than they claim once the evidence becomes inconvenient for their position.

JTR: Again, though the TR position does not depend on the “reconstruction” method, this does not mean we cannot make observations about extant evidence.

Since the TR position is a ‘grand unified theory’ under which every manuscript falls, you should excel at analysing the data.

JTR: Again, this “grand unified theory” idea is EH’s own idea, not one promoted by any TR advocate of whom I am aware.

The same could be said of the other manuscripts in which I suggested a printed text as a source. You did the same with 177—you left out the fact that the priest to whom I linked the CJ actually signed and dated the manuscript (at least in the written form). That’s a powerful observation that makes it much more difficult to dismiss my conclusions.

JTR: This is what I wrote in my review: “He [EH] traces the marginal insertion of the CJ to a ‘Roman Catholic priest in Munich.’” So, did I “leave out” this information? No, of course, I didn’t. What I did was question the significance or relevance of the fact that 177 had been owned by a RC priest, with respect to evaluating its acceptance by Protestants as a genuine part of Scripture.

Thank you again though for taking my post seriously enough to write a response.


JTR: You are most welcomed. Thank you for your responses. Of course, there were a number of other responses given in my review and questions raised that your comments did not address, including the following:

·       The TR defense of the CJ does not depend on extant external evidence. TR defenders held to the TR in 1971, 1975 when Metzger could list only 4 late Greek witnesses in its favor, and though we are now happy to have 10-11 such witnesses (depending on how you count 635 marg), we never believed that we were dependent on these witnesses to confirm our defense of the TR. So, the “new” mss. surveyed by EH are nice to know about, but TR advocates are convinced of the authenticity of the CJ with or without them.

·       There is very little early evidence for the Catholic epistles overall and for I John, in particular (just two papyri). Does this not speak to the limits of certainty with the reconstruction method?

·       TR advocates recognize that though the CJ may support the doctrine of the Trinity, and it is essential to the Scriptures as as a whole, there are other passages that also support the doctrine of the Trinity, and that the doctrine is not dependent on this text alone.

·       The CJ was known, accepted, and used by the doctors of the church long before the Reformation (again from Bernard of Clairvaux to Thomas Aquinas). Is it not the rejection of the CJ that risks discontinuity with pre-Reformation Christianity?

·       The attempt to show “RC provenance” for some extant mss. which include the CJ in some form (by EH’s own emphasis, a key interest of his study), does not, in fact, invalidate TR defense of the CJ, nor does it negate classical Protestant acceptance of it.

·       Other specific brief questions related to specific manuscripts were not addressed (e.g., regarding the orthodox provenance of 2318; regarding how to understand Coxe’s note on 221).