Thursday, December 31, 2020

WM 186: Is Codex Sinaiticus a Forgery?


Here are my notes for WM 186:

This week (12.29.20) I posted my book review of D. C. Parker’s Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible (British Library/Hendrickson, 2010).

In the review I made passing reference to Parker’s discussion of allegations made in the nineteenth century that this codex is a forgery, created by a man named Constantine Simonides (1820-1890).

I also noted on my youtube subscription feed that that there is a debate scheduled for 1.3.21 on Josh Gibbs’s Talking Christianity podcast between James Snapp, Jr. and Steve Avery on the topic: “The World’s Oldest Bible Is a Replica: Simonides the Scribe" (look here).

I thought it might be on interest to do a study of some of the background to the Simonides forgery allegation, by looking at a few discussions of it.

Let’s begin with the Wikipedia article on Constantine Simonides.              

Next, let’s look at Parker’s dismissal of the allegation in his work on Codex Sinaiticus (see pp. 151-152, and the bibliography on p. 154, especially the work by Elliot).

Finally, let’s look at a few relevant entries in Stanley E. Porter’s biography Constantine Tischendorf: The Life and Work of a 19th Century Bible Hunter (Bloomsbury, 2015).

See pp. 38-39 where Porter discusses how Simonides in 1855 sold to the University of Leipzig Library manuscripts of the Shepherd of Hermes, later challenged as inauthentic by various scholars, including Tischendorf. Around the same time, Simonides was also arrested on the charge of forging a palimpsest manuscript attributed to Uranius of Alexandria and Porter notes that Tischendorf also wrote disputing the authenticity of these documents.

See also pp. 48-50 and Porter’s discussion of the forgery claim made by Simonides and his ten reasons to reject the plausibility of this claim (taken from Elliot).


Codex Sinaiticus may be a forgery, but I believe it is more likely it is authentic based on the arguments made by Elliot (relayed by Porter).

There are people who are experts on papyrology and who have examined the documents firsthand, and their judgements should be given proper weight.

This is not to say, however, that scholars cannot be duped. They can! And their presuppositions can lead them to embrace dubious “evidence” to support their views.

There have been various examples of modern disputes about the age or authenticity of ancient documents.

Three contemporary examples:

First, Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel of Mark (1958).

The dispute here involves the authenticity of the Mar Saba letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria and its reference to an extended version of Mark.

Second, Dan Wallace and “first-century Mark” (2012). In a debate with Bart Ehrman in 2012, Wallace claimed that a fragment of Mark was about to be published that was dated to the first century. He later, however, had to withdraw this claim (see his 2018 blog post).

Third, Harvard Divinity scholar Karen L. King and the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” (2012).

This Coptic papyrus was proven to be a forgery and exposed as such in an Atlantic article in 2016.


Scholars can make overblown and even deceptive claims about mss. in order to support their points, just as traditionalists can to support theirs.

The three examples cited above all involved relatively short and fragmentary documents. One of the arguments in favor of the authenticity of Codex Sinaiticus is the fact that it is such a massive document and that it shows evidence of so much scribal correction.

Nevertheless, the claim probably cannot be completely dismissed. At the least the dispute illustrates a glary weakness of the reconstruction method. If you are going to rely on reconstruction as a method how can you do so without knowing with certainty the provenance or origins of many of the documents upon which you rely to make your reconstruction.


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Book Review posted: D. C. Parker, Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World's Oldest Bible


I have posted an audio version of my book review of D. C. Parker, Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World's Oldest Bible (British Museum/Hendrickson, 2010).

I have also posted to the written review which appeared in American Theological Inquiry, Vol. 5, No. 1 (2012): 138-141. Read it here.

Blessings, JTR

Monday, December 28, 2020

Book Review posted: Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher

My review of Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher: A Memoir, appeared in Midwestern Journal of Theology, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Fall 2020): 94-96.

The review is now posted to my page (read it here).

I also covered the material in this review back in WM 165.


Friday, December 25, 2020

The Vision (12.25.20): The Birth of Jesus Christ


Image: CRBC Outreach at Epworth Manor, Louisa (12.23.20)

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 1:18-25 (not yet posted to

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 1:18).

Matthew 1:18 begins with a heading for the narrative to follow: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise….”

In one of the earliest confessions of faith, the Apostle’s Creed, the doctrine of the birth of Christ is rightly affirmed as essential to orthodox faith, confessing him as one “who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary.”

The Biblical foundation for this is found in Matthew 1:18, which continues, “When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph….”

In those days among the Jews, it was common to have a formal engagement or espousal agreement between a man and a woman, as a preliminary step, before they formally entered into marriage.

Matthew adds, “before they came together.” This is, of course, a discreet way of saying, “before they shared in conjugal intimacy as husband and wife.” Such intimacy would not have been allowed during the engagement or betrothal period.

And he continues, “she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” I think the language of the KJV here is just right in its ability to be circumspect and discreet but also plain about the scandalous circumstances. She and Joseph had not yet come together, and yet she was found to be with child! Contrast the KJV rendering with the crassness of some modern translations (like the NIV).

Matthew gives us privileged information. This conception had come about not by ordinary generation but by extra-ordinary generation, not by natural means but by supernatural means. This child was conceived “of the Holy Ghost.”

In Luke’s account he tells us that the angel Gabriel announced this to Mary even before the miraculous conception, “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The description brings to mind the work of the Holy Spirit at creation with the Spirit moving upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2).

How did this conception take place? What were the details? We are not told. It reminds me somewhat of the way the resurrection will be described. There is not detailed description of how it came about, but just a declaration that it did come about.

Christ was conceived in the womb of a virgin of the Holy Spirit. We know this conception came about in such a way that neither Joseph nor any other man was the natural father, but in such a way that Mary was rightly called his natural mother. He shared in the fleshly nature of Mary. One medieval theologian put it this way: When God made the Eve, the first woman, in the garden, he did so by taking from the rib of Adam. But when the second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, was conceived by God, he did so by taking “the virginal flesh [of Mary, a daughter of Eve] without seed” (see St. Symeon the New Theologian, The First Created Man, 96).  We might say: The first woman, Eve, was made without a woman. The true man, Christ, was made without a man.

There is no naturalistic explanation for this. If there was, it would not be a miracle, which it is!

Today we affirm and defend the doctrine of the supernatural conception and the virgin birth of Christ. We can affirm with the Apostles’ Creed that we believe “in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary.”

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Contemporary Version of Gregory Nazianzen Hymn: O Light That Knew No Dawn


A couple of years ago, I ran across Eric Gilbert's contemporary version of "O Light That Knew No Dawn" based on the ancient hymn by Gregory Nazianzen (AD 325-390). The service is at Christ Church, East Bay, Berkeley, CA, an EPC congregation. A traditional version of the hymn is also found in the Trinity Hymnal (look here).


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Book Review: Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views


I have posted my book review of David Alan Black, Ed., Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views (Broadman & Holman, 2008).

The written review appeared in American Theological Inquiry, Vol. 5, No. 1 (2012): 133-138. Read the pdf here on my page.


Friday, December 18, 2020

The Vision (12.18.20): The book of the generation of Jesus Christ


Image: CRBC Leaf Raking Crew @ the Bells Grove Church (12.12.20)

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 1:1-17.

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1).

If you were to attempt to explain the life of the Lord Jesus where would you begin?

Mark begins with Christ’s baptism by John.

Luke begins with the birth of the John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, and then proceeds to describe Christ’s birth in Bethlehem.

John begins in pre-existence: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

Matthew, like Luke, also begins with the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, but before he describes his birth, he provides us with the genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ, or his family tree (Matthew 1:1-17).

What applications can we draw from this genealogy?

First, we see the sovereign plan of God being worked out in his providence:

At many points along the way it might have seemed that all hope was lost and that the Lord would never send his Messiah.

So too we may despair in our circumstances, but this genealogy teaches us not to despair. What we see is so limited. We will never likely see in this life the fulfillment of all the Lord’s purposes, but we can trust that his plan is good and that nothing can thwart it.

Psalm 42:11 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

Second, we see that the Lord works through the lives of sinful and fallen men to achieve his own ends, whether they be Jacob, or Judah, or Rachab, or David, etc.

The Puritan exegete Matthew Poole notes, “That it was no way incongruous, that He who came into the world to die for great sinners, should be born of some that were such.”

We trust not in the competence or the faithfulness of his servants, but in the ability and faithfulness of our God.

Third, the end or goal of history is the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham.

This genealogy reminds us that he came in time as a true man, to redeem sinful men.

This is the way the apostle Paul put it:

Hebrews 2:16 For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.

17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, December 17, 2020

WM 185: Text Note: Matthew 1:7-8: Asa or Asaph?


Notes from WM 185:

The issue:

I was preaching last Sunday through the genealogy which begins the Gospel of Matthew and noted a textual variation at Matthew 1:7-8.

The TR reads Asa, ασα, while the modern critical text reads Asaph, ασαφ (Westcott and Hort, NA 28, THGNT).

Translations based on the TR, then, read “Asa” while those based on the modern critical text read “Asaph” (see, e.g., the RSV/NRSV/ESV; though some, like the NIV, demur and follow the traditional reading “Asa”).

In spelling the difference is but one letter.

The external evidence:

The TR reading is supported by:

K, L, W, Γ, Δ, 33, 565, 579, 892, 1241, 1424, and the Majority text. It is also in the Latin Vulgate and the Syriac.

The modern critical text is supported by:

P1 (vid), א, B, C, family 1, family 13, and 700. It is also found in the Old Latin, in some mss. of the Harklean Syriac, and in the Coptic.

The internal evidence:

Metzger’s Commentary gives the modern critical text a {B} rating (17).

Metzger begins by noting that “Asaph” is “the earliest form of text preserved in the manuscripts” and that it comes from geographically diverse sources.

He adds:

“Furthermore, the tendency of scribes, observing that the name of the psalmist Asaph (cf. the titles of Pss 50 and 73 to 83), would have been to correct the error, thus accounting for the prevalence of [Asa] in the later Ecclesiastical text and its inclusion in the Textus Receptus.”

He cites the scholar LaGrange’s demurral from the scholarly consensus, noting that the author would not have drawn up this list “without consulting the Old Testament.” Asaph then, must be “a very ancient [scribal] error.”

Metzger contrarily concludes, “Since, however, the evangelist may have derived material from the genealogy, not from the Old Testament directly, but from subsequent genealogical lists, in which the erroneous spelling occurred, the Committee saw no reason to adopt what appears to be a scribal emendation in the text of Matthew.”

So, Metzger’s theory is the following:

The original author of Matthew derived his genealogical list not directly from the OT, but from some later genealogical list, in which the name of Asa had been misspelled (it was not even an alternative spelling for Asa but an error). In a footnote, Meztger does not that Asa is spelled Asab in one ms. of the genealogy of 1 Chron 3:10 and that it is spelled Asanos in Josephus’s Antiquities, viii.xi.3-xx.6 (and spelled Asaph in a Latin translation).


This is a minor variation (one letter), but it is significant.

Would the Gospel of Matthew have included an erroneous spelling of the name of a king of Israel (Asa), possibly confusing the name with a Psalmist (Asaph)?

Would Matthew (a Jewish apostle, steeped in the OT) have included “Asaph” in a Gospel that most scholars agree was likely aimed at a Jewish Christian audience?

The traditional reading has ancient attestation. W is one of the earliest uncials. Only one papyrus favors Asaph and its reading is unclear. The clear consensus reading, confirmed by its appearance in the Majority of extant mss., was Asa.

There is a plausible explanation for the brief appearance of Asaph in the tradition: an early scribal error.

The modern critical text’s preference for a historically incorrect reading is that they are supposedly restoring the hypothetical original. This decision shows their bias against historical accuracy in the original and in the consensus text. Thus, it subtly undermines the historical reliability of Scripture.

Metzger’s approach gives us insight into the mind of the modern reconstructionist text critic. As David C. Parker so colorfully puts it, “The editor is the person who confronts this terrifying anarchy of competing variants, [and] is in effect the scholarly world’s exorcist who drives out the legion demons and leaves the work sitting and clothed and in its right mind” (104).

So, the modern scholar sees the traditional text as a demon possessed monstrosity, which he must exorcized in order to restore the text to its “right mind.”

In this case, however, it appears to be an anti-exorcism with the original and correct Asa being removed and replaced by the corruption, Asaph!

How would a preacher or teacher who uses a translation such as the ESV handle his exposition of this passage? Would he say, “This reading is historically inaccurate, appears only in a minority tradition, but we believe it was probably the original and we are going to accept it in our Bibles even though (and perhaps even because of the fact that) it is historically wrong.”?

The traditional reading is to be preferred.

Note: A very similar divergence appears in Matthew 1:10 where the TR reads “Amon,” while the modern critical text reads “Amos.”


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Praying for Reformed churches in British Columbia

Praying for Reformed churches in British Columbia, including Free Grace BC, Chilliwack, who are continuing to meet for Lord's Day worship services. See this news article.


Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Book Review posted: David C. Parker, Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament


I have posted a video and audio version of my review of David C. Parker, Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament (Oxford, 2012).

My review appeared in American Theological Inquiry, Vol. 7, No. 1 (2014): 81-84.

I also posted a pdf of my review to my page (find it here).


Friday, December 11, 2020

The Vision (12.11.20): Is any sick among you?


Note Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on James 5:13-20.

Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up (James 5:14-15a).

There are several things to be noted here:

First, notice that it is the duty of the person who is sick and in need to call upon the elders of the church to pray for him. The elders are not clairvoyants who know without being told what the spiritual needs of the flock are. It is something of a stereotype in some churches with immature or even unconverted “members” that they get upset if the pastor does not initiate visiting them or calling upon them if they are sick. But James says the duty here is upon the sick to make their need known to the elders.

Second, it assumes that in the church there will be a plurality of elders.

Third, it assumes that a special part of the elders’ work will be prayer. This follows the pattern of the apostles in Jerusalem who set apart seven men to wait on the tables of the widows so that they might give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4).

Fourth, it suggests the manner of prayer. That the elders pray over the sick and that they anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord (v. 14).

The emphasis here should not be upon the use of oil. This kind of reading leads to ungodly superstition. There were those who have twisted this verse to teach the doctrine of so-called extreme unction, that there must be special prayers for those who are sick unto death.

I agree with Matthew Poole that anointing with oil was an “outward rite” used by some in those times (cf. Mark 6:13), while many other healings took place under the ministry of Christ and the apostles only at a word or with the touch of the hand. This was not “an institution of a sacrament” but a command to the elders of apostolic times.

Again, the emphasis here should not be upon the mention of oil, for God is surely not dependent upon any outward means and can do as he pleases, but the emphasis should be upon prayer being offered in the name of the Lord, that is, according to his will (cf. John 14:13-14).

Fifth, it suggests the outcome of prayer (v. 15a): “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.” The prayer of faith means the prayer offered up in faith (trust) in God, and with resignation to his will. The verb “to save” has a double meaning. It can refer both to saving the body from sickness and death, at least temporarily, but, more importantly, it refers to saving a man from the second death, the saving of his soul, and the granting of eternal life.

We were talking about Job last week and the temporal reversal of Job chapter 42 so that “the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12), but even Job did eventually die.

Consider John 6:44: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” Even if the Lord does not raise his servant from the sick bed, he will surely, in the end, raise him from the grave!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

WM 184: 1 Cor 3:23: From Paul to Arius to Calvin

Notes for WM 184:

I am currently preaching through Matthew on Sunday pm; the 1689 confession on Sunday pm; and teaching through 1 Cor on Wednesday evenings.

Last week we were looking at 1 Cor 3:18-23 and spent some time discussing 1 Cor 3:23: “And ye are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.”

We discussed how an Arian (follower of Arius, the fourth century heretical teacher from Alexandria might have misused this passage).

Arius taught that Son of God was an exalted creature incarnate in Jesus, but that he was subordinate to the Father.

The controversy over Arian’s teaching is what prompted the Council of Nicaea and the Nicene Creed that was affirmed in it.

What other passages would the Arians have appealed to?

1 Cor 11:3; John 14:26; Mark 13:32; 1 Cor 15:28.

See the letter of Arius to Eusebius of Nicomedia:

Orthodox responses to heterodox interpretations of 1 Cor 3:23:

When Paul says “And ye are Christ’s and Christ is God’s,” he could have been thinking of Christ’s work as the incarnate mediator. Cf. John 1:18: “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

Other key passage:

On the incarnation: Phil 2:5-11 (esp. vv. 5-6);

On Paul’s declaration that Jesus is Lord: Phil 2:11; Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3; cf. 1 Tim 3:16.

The Gospel declarations that Jesus is equal in essence with God: Mark 2:5-7; John 10:30; John 20:28.

We need “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

See Calvin’s commentary on 1 Cor 3:23:

Calvin is keenly aware of how this passage might be misused.

He likely is looking back to the Arians, and perhaps also looking around at his own day and the revival of Arianism, or Unitarianism, in some circles. And he, no doubt, was also looking forward to dangers that might arise on the horizon.


Study of 1 Cor 3:23 demonstrates the need for care in rightly dividing the Word of God (2 Tim 2:15).


Friday, December 04, 2020

The Vision (12.2.20): The Patience of Job


Image: Fall sky, Virginia, November 2020

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on James 5:10-12:

Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord (James 5:11).

In his epistle, James exhorts the “brethren” to maintain the fruit of patience (longsuffering), by placing the example of Job before their eyes.

When we are faced with afflictions, can we say as Job did, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return thither: the LORD gave and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (1:21)?

When even those closest to us tempt us to despair, will we say, “What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10)?

When the Lord speaks to us from the whirlwind, will we, like Job, say, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth” (40:4)?

Notice James adds in v. 11 that the brethren have not only “heard” of the example of Job, but also “have seen the end of the Lord.” The Greek word for “end” here is telos. It does not mean “end” as in “conclusion” (e.g., “the end of a play”) or “last thing” (e.g., “the end of a series”). Rather, it means “goal” or “plan” or “design.”

His point: God had bigger plans or goals or designs to be worked out in his sanctification of Job that required Job’s suffering and affliction.

This same spirit is expressed by Joseph when he revealed himself to his brothers, saying, “ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen 50:20). Can you say to the person who has treated you the worst, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good”?

Consider Paul’s great statement in Romans 8:28, a comfort to so many saints over the years: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

Friends, let us look to the example of Job and trust the good “end” God has purposed when he allows his saints to suffer affliction.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Vision (11.27.20): Be ye also patient


Image: Holly berries, Sanford, North Carolina, November 2020

Note: Devotion based on last Sunday's sermon on James 5:7-10.

Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh (James 5:8).

In v. 8 James exhorts: “Be ye also patient.” In v. 7 he offered the mini-parable of the patient farmer: “Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth….” James is saying look to the farmer as an example of one who is longsuffering even though he does not see any immediate growth on the surface, but also, most importantly, learn from the patience of the Lord himself.

He adds a second exhortation: “stablish your hearts” (v. 8b). The verb here is sterizo, meaning to strengthen. Make strong and vigorous your hearts, the center of your affections. The Christian faith is for those who know that when they are weak, then he is strong, but the Christian life is not for the spiritually faint-hearted, for spiritual weaklings. In Christ’s parable of the sower, the seed that fell on the shallow soil did not last (Mark 4:5-6).

There are just too many difficult things one will have to encounter in this life to think that he can breeze through it all without ever exercising the spiritual disciplines that will result in the strengthening of his heart. Why are we baptized? Why do we come to the Lord’s table in the context of God’s people? Why do we read and memorize God’s word?  Why do we attend to the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures? Why do we learn the practice of prayer? It is so that we might have our hearts strengthened, so that, by God’s grace, when we face resistance, obstacles, setbacks, opposition, and suffering our hearts are strong. It is so that we might face such things and not be undone and destroyed by them, but that we might be patient even in afflictions.

Finally, James adds at the end of v. 8: “for the coming of the Lord drawth nigh.” I’ve mentioned before driving once on some back roads towards the beach in NC and passing a sign that read, “Jesus is coming soon!” The problem was that the sign was faded, the paint was peeling, and the sign board was warped. It was a mixed message at best.

But we must remember what Peter said: “one day is with the Lord like a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8; Psalm 90:4).

Our job is not to know when he coming. Christ himself said that no man knows that day or that hour (Mark 13:32-33). Our job is to know that God is at work in the world and that he is coming and that in the meantime (the in-between time) we are to be found faithful, so that we are not ashamed when he does come.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel: Devotions for December Lord's Days 2020

I was happy to contribute an article to the new e-booklet O Come, O Come, Emmanuel: Devotions for December Lord's Days 2020, published by the IRBS Theological Seminary.

My article is titled "Though You Are Little," a reflection on Micah 5:2-5a; Matthew 2:1-6 (pp. 18-31).

The e-booklet is available to be downloaded for free from the IRBS website (find it here).


Saturday, November 21, 2020

Eusebius, EH.10.8-9: Constantine: Most Mighty Victor


Note: This episode concludes this series. It is Episode 126 of 126. The series began on 2/19/19.

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 10, chapter 8-9.

Notes and Commentary:

These final two chapters in the EH describe the Emperor Constantine’s final victory over his rival Licinius to unite the Roman empire and to ensure peace and security for the Christians.

Chapter 8 describes the intrigues of Licinius against Constantine and the Christian community. Eusebius notes that although Constantine acted graciously toward Licinius, who stood second in rank to him, even giving his sister in marriage to Licinius, he rejected this good will and rebelled against Constantine. In the end, however, God proved to be Constantine’s “Friend and Protector and Guardian.”

In his rebellion, the ire of Licinius was not just aimed at Constantine but also against the Christians. Eusebius notes that Licinius first drove Christians from his palace and then deprived Christian soldiers in his army of their rank.

He also passed various unjust ordinances, including a law that forbade the humane distribution of food to those who were imprisoned. He banished or arrested various men of nobility and high-esteem. Eusebius also accuses Licinius of immorality in his abuse of many married women and unwedded girls to satisfy his “unbridled lust,” calling him a “drunken old dotard.”

In the final stages of his “madness” Licinius struck against the bishops, putting some to death, and against the churches, throwing them down “from top to bottom” or shutting them up. Some of those put to death had their bodies cut to pieces with the sword and the pieces of their body were cast in the sea as “food for fishes.” Many of the men of God fled again to the fields, deserts, glens, and mountains to escape this persecution.

Chapter 9 notes how Constantine defeated Licinius. The “humane” Emperor and his son, Crispus, stretched out “the right hand of salvation” by going into battle against “the haters of God” and quickly won the victory.

Oulton explains in a footnote: “Licinius was defeated first at Adrianople, 3 July and secondly, when he had fled to Byzantium and had been forced to cross the Straits at Chrysopolis (Scutari), September 18 or 20, 324. Shortly afterwards, Constantine had him put to death” (476-477, n. 1).

The “pictures and honours” of Licinius were disgraced, and he was “cast down prostrate.”

Constantine, the “most mighty Victor,” “recovered the East” and “formed the Roman Empire, as in the days of old, into a single, united whole.” The populace had all fear taken away and celebrated the victory with “brilliant festivals,” as “all things were filled with light.” Praise was given first to God and then to Constantine and his sons.


Eusebius ends the EH with this narrative of the triumph of Constantine over Licinius and with the peace of the Christians in the Roman Empire established. By AD 380, Christianity will be made the official religion of the Empire by the Edict of Thessalonica issued by the Emperor Theodosius. It continues to be debated today whether Constantine’s embrace and protection of the church was a blessing or detriment to the Christian movement.


Friday, November 20, 2020

In Memoriam: Barbara Nixon Clark (May 29, 1942—November 18, 2020)

Elder Jeff Clark and beloved wife, Barbara.

Well done thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord (Matthew 25:21). 

A funeral service of worship in praise to God through Christ and with thanksgiving for the life and ministry of our sister will be held at Christ Reformed Baptist Church (2997 Courthouse Road, Louisa, Virginia 23093) on Monday, November 23, 2020 at 2:00 pm. The family will greet friends in the Fellowship Hall after the service. Interment will be private.


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

On Amateurs and Experts and the Text of Scripture


Last week I was asked to do a Zoom lecture to a group of staff, leaders, and deputation speakers from the Trinitarian Bible Society giving my take on the current state of academic text criticism and the current popular resurgence of interest in the TR. On the latter topic I noted the following:

Just as the Reformation was aided by the printing press, this movement has been aided by the internet (blogs, websites, FB groups, and podcasts), which has allowed advocates for the TR to put forward their message and get around the normal “gatekeepers” (seminaries, mainstream book publishers, etc.).

In other words, the TR is promoted by “amateurs” and resisted by “professionals.”

I thought of this when I listened to the recent podcast on the new biography of Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, who was also an “amateur”, working outside the professional guild, laboring in the iron works by day and doing text criticism by night (though, in his case, he worked against the TR).

One thinks as well of someone like James Snapp, Jr. who often has a knack of seeing things that the “professionals” do not. Or, consider that when we were exploring Ephesians 3:9 it was an “untrained” college student (“CC”) who kept finding texts with the TR reading and not a “trained” man with a respected doctorate.

Then, this morning I happened to be reading the little booklet by media analyst Marshall McLuhan and graphic designer Quentin Fiore (co-ordinated by Jerome Agel), The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (Bantam, 1967) [Note in the title it is “Massage,” a play on McLuhan’s better known The Medium is the Message]. The point being that the electronic media “shapes, works over, alters—massages—every instant of our lives” (148). And this was written in 1967 mainly in reference to the advent of television, but eerily predictive of the internet.

More to the point, the book has an intriguing discussion of the “amateur” in this brave new world.

It begins with a paragraph on Michael Faraday, a self-taught amateur, “who had little mathematics and no formal schooling beyond the primary grades” but who became a celebrated “experimenter who discovered the induction of electricity” and thus became “one of the great founders of modern physics” (92).

McLuhan and Fiore then add this interesting paragraph:

“Professionalism is environmental. Amateurism is anti-environmental. Professionalism merges the individual into patterns of total environment. Amateurism seeks the development of the total awareness of the individual and the critical awareness of the groundrules of society. The amateur can afford to lose. The professional tends to classify and specialize, to accept uncritically the groundrules of the environment. The groundrules provided by the mass response of his colleagues serve as a pervasive environment of which he is contentedly and unaware. The ‘expert’ is the man who stays put” (93).


Sunday, November 15, 2020

Podcast recommendation: Crawford Gribben interviews Timothy C. F. Stunt on Samuel Prideaux Tregelles


Crawford Gribben of Queens University Belfast interviews Timothy C. F. Stunt on his new book The Life and Times of Samuel Prideaux Tregelles: A Forgotten Scholar on the New Books Network podcast.

Enjoy, JTR

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Vision (11.13.20): For what is your life?


Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on James 4:13-17.

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away (James 4:14).

I am glad to be a Christian, because we get to ask the ultimate questions of life, as James poses it here: “For what is your life?”

He begins to answer that question by stressing the brevity and fragility of life. James says that life is like a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Where we live close to the mountains it is not unusual to wake up in the early morning to find a hazy vapor hanging low in the air, which soon disappears as the sun rises. James says that life is like this. It is brief. It is fleeting. It is fragile.

A similar point had been made earlier in his warning to the rich in 1:10-11 where the brevity of life was compared to the flower of the grass that soon passes away (cf. Isaiah 40:6-8).

There are many other places in the Old Testament, in particular, where this point is made. One of the most vivid is Psalm 90, a prayer of Moses the man of God, in which we read this petition: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

In our prayer meeting last Wednesday evening we briefly discussed and prayed for the family of Canadian Christian blogger Tim Challies whose 20-year-old son suddenly and unexpectedly died last week. This young man was a believer, a student at Boyce College, a Christian college connected to Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. One moment he was playing a game with some friends, including his sister and his fiancé, and the next moment he collapsed and died, leaving behind grieving family and friends.

Week before last I was at the funeral of my 52-year-old cousin. He had been a gifted athlete in his younger years, voted most likely to succeed his senior year in high school, had a good job as an engineer, loved to build and fix things, had a wife and three young adult children, was expecting his first grandchild, and was a Christian man devoted to his local church. But cancer took his life away in a year’s time.

We also recently prayed for the family of Pastor Gary Hendrix who died last week at age 73 after 50 years as a pastor at Grace RBC in Mebane, NC. Pastor Hendrix was active on twitter and on October 23, 2020 he sent his last tweet which read, “I have kept vigil by many death beds, now it is my time to lay on one of my own. Sobbing.”

Friends, we will all one day keep vigil at our own death bed, whether we be 20, 52, or 73, or whatever.

For what is your life? The time to ask is now.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Eusebius, EH.10.6-7: Constantine's Largess to Christians of Africa


This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 10, chapter 6-7.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters present two more imperial letters (one each respectively) relating to privileges being granted to Christians following the end of persecution against them.

Chapter 6 provides a copy of a letter from Constantine to Caecilian bishop of Carthage, in which he informs the bishop that he has ordered three thousand folles be given to the churches. Oulton notes: “The follis was originally a small bag of coins, but afterwards came to denote a coin itself, the double denarius” (461, n. 2). He also tells Caecilian that if he has any trouble from any in his government who oppose the Christians he should go to Anulinus, the proconsul, and Patricius, the “Vicar of the Prefects,” to report this.

Chapter 7 is a letter from the emperor to Anulinus, proconsul of Africa, in which he orders Anulinus, that the “presidents of the church” (“clerics”) “be kept absolutely free from public offices” so that they can devote their time to performing the worship services of God, in which “they confer incalculable benefit on the affairs of the State.”


These chapters continue to show the benefits and privileges that came to Christians during the rule of Constantine. We might paraphrase a line from song in the musical Hamilton, “It must be nice to have Constantine on your side.” In the long run, this will prove to be something of a mixed blessing for Christians. They were freed from persecution, but we see their affairs becoming entangled with the state.


Saturday, November 07, 2020

Festschrift for Pastor Albert N. Martin Forthcoming: A Workman Not Ashamed


I was pleased to be able to contribute an essay on pastoral theology, "The Administration and Administrators of Baptism", to the forthcoming festschrift for Pastor Albert N. Martin, edited by David Charles and Rob Ventura.

The book titled A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin is being published by Free Grace Press and can be pre-ordered here.

Here is the forward to the work from Dr. Joel Beeke:

Al Martin’s ministry has had a profound impact on hundreds of faithful ministers and thousands of people for several decades, such that it is high time that a festschrift—that is, a book of essays reflecting his interests and passions written by friends, be written in his honor. I am grateful to David Charles and Rob Ventura who served as the organizers and editors for this festschrift, and wish to testify my gratitude to them and their fellow contributors that this book passes muster for what it is designed to do. I am confident that its honoree will be delighted with its contents.

To profit from this festschrift, one does not have to agree with every detail of each chapter of this book. A wonderful variety of subjects is presented to the reader, reaching the whole man: head, heart, and hands. Good scholarship, edifying soul-enriching food, and experiential and practical applications abound in these pages—all of which reflects Al Martin’s own ministry of the Word.

This book opens with a sketch of Al Martin’s life by John Reuther, who has known him for more than four decades, beginning when he first sat under Al’s preaching at Trinity Baptist Church in New Jersey.

Sam Waldron draws several encouraging points about preaching from Luke’s account of one of the most fruitful sermons in all history: Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Here we are reminded that preaching is the authoritative proclamation of Christ from the Scriptures with a call to practical action.

Conrad Mbewe presents a plea that pastors mentor future pastors in the context of the local church, just as Trinity Baptist Church for many years sponsored its own academy for pastoral training. Pastors need to study books, but they also need to be with people to learn how godly pastors relate to their families and church members in a variety of settings.

Richard Barcellos provides a detailed exegetical study of the Greek text of Ephesians 4:12 to support the old translation that Paul uses all three phrases to describe the results of the ministry of the word (as in “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” KJV), not the newer translation that joins the first two to suggest that the ministry of the Word equips others to build up the body.

Alan Dunn writes an essay exploring how the church overcomes the world in its witness through suffering and martyrdom. Dunn strikingly calls this “the strategy of slaughtered lambs.”

Jim Savastio exhorts pastors to “feed the flock of God which is among you” (1 Pet. 5:2), that is, to preach to address the needs of the people whom God has entrusted to them. Toward that end, preachers must know their Bibles and know their flocks.

The core of the message that we preach is the gospel of justification by faith, and D. Scott Meadows opens Galatians 2:15–19 to proclaim that we can never be justified by works of obedience to God’s law. Our righteousness is Christ alone received by faith alone.

Rob Ventura touches upon a key theme in Al Martin’s life: the Holy Spirit and the preacher. Without the prevailing power of the Spirit to convict, convert, and comfort hearers, the preacher would be wise never to enter the pulpit.

Michael Haykin offers a chapter on the life of one of the earliest Reformed (or Particular) Baptist ministers, William Kiffen or Kiffin (1616–1701). Kiffen was a signatory and probably an author of the First London Baptist Confession of Faith (1644), and in 1689 he also signed the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith.

At the heart of Christ’s purpose to build His kingdom is the church, with its ordinances of worship. Jeffrey Riddle makes an argument that the ordinance of baptism should be done in the assembly of the church by its designated officers—not just by an informal gathering of believers.

Nothing is more important for the church to do than the worship of God. Scott Aniol explains the Reformed regulative principle of worship and its particular applications by Baptist churches in their practice of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, singing, and church polity.

The goal of preaching the gospel is to restore fallen men and women to fellowship with God—deep and rich communion, as is explored in the chapter by Jeffrey Waddington. He draws particularly from Geerhardus Vos’s insights into the purpose for which God created us.

Few Calvinistic Baptists have attained to the stature of the Bible commentator and systematic theologian John Gill (1697–1771). Gill’s sermon, “The Duty of a Pastor to His People,” originally given at the ordination of George Braithwaite in 1734, rounds out the book with a call to faithful pastoral ministry.

Here, then, you will find a book that honors a veteran minister and teacher of the Word by exhorting other ministers to preach the Word, shepherd the flock, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill the commission placed upon them by the Lord. May God use the contributions of these authors to raise up preachers who fit the words of Francis Wayland (1796–1865): “From the manner in which our ministers have entered upon the work, it is evident that it must have been the prominent object of their lives to convert men to God.”