Friday, April 30, 2021

Book Review: Paul D. Wegner, A Student's Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible


I have posted audio versions above of my review of Paul D. Wegner, A Student's Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible (Intervarsity Press, 2006) from the Evangelical Forum Newsletter, Vol. 6, No. 2 (2009): 37-40. You can also find a pdf of the review here at my page.


The Vision (4.30.21): Swear not at all


Image: Azalea flowers, North Garden, Virginia, April 2021

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 5:33-37.

But I say unto you, Swear not at all… (Matthew 5:34a).

The higher law of Christ begins in v. 34a: “But I say unto you, Swear not at all….” After this general admonition against ungodly swearing, Christ offers four exemplary things by which one is not to swear: by heaven, by earth, by Jerusalem, and by thy head (vv. 34b-36).

Does Christ offer here a complete prohibition against swearing any oath (a promise made to man before God as witness) or making any vow (a promise made directly to God)?

If this were the case, then Christ would not have affirmed passages in the Old Testament that call for faithfulness in keeping one’s word, like Leviticus 19:12, Numbers 30:2, and Deuteronomy 23:21-23 (see Matt 5:33), but he would be doing away with them completely. This would not fit with what Christ said about his coming not to destroy the law but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17).

We can even find references in the NT to God himself making vows to men of old, like Abraham (see Hebrews 6:13-17) and David (see Acts 2:30). If God himself swears such oaths, it is not unlawful for men to make such promises.

Christ then does not here prohibit making such oaths, but he condemns those who make them in a false and deceptive manner, seeking loopholes to justify the breaking of their word. Rather than speaking forthrightly and calling God for their witness, they had instead swore by things other than God. So, they said, I swear by heaven, for it is God’s throne, etc. See Christ’s condemnation of such “blind guides” in Matthew 23:16-22.

Here are the comments on this passage found in the notes of one popular Study Bible that I think gets it right:

“This should not be taken as a universal condemnation of oaths in all circumstances…. What Christ is forbidding here is the flippant, profane, or careless use of oaths in everyday speech. In that culture, such oaths were often employed for deceptive purposes. To make the person being victimized believe the truth was being told, the Jews would swear by ‘heaven,’ ‘earth,’ ‘Jerusalem,’ or their own ‘heads’ (vv. 34-36), not by God, hoping to avoid divine judgment for their lie” (MacArthur Study Bible).

This fits with what we read on the Puritan Matthew Poole’s interpretation:

“We must consider that our Saviour is here opposing himself to the corruptions of that age brought in by the Pharisees, who has taught people that swearing was nothing if they did not foreswear themselves…. [forbearing] the name of God.”

Christ, with all the righteous indignation of the prophets of old, is condemning in this passage those who make vows before God deceptively and hypocritically, never intending to keep their word, to pay the vow which they have made.

We are not to be double-mind men, unstable in all our ways (James 1:8). We are instead to speak clearly and truly, and then stand by what we have promised without wavering, whether that be a commitment to a spouse in marriage, a commitment to covenant church membership in a local church, ordination to church office, or, most importantly, the commitment to follow Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, April 23, 2021

The Vision (4.23.21): Radical Removal


Image: Groundcover, North Garden, Virginia, April 2021

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 5:27-32.

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell (Matthew 5:29).

Christ here calls for the radical removal of anything that would be a cause of stumbling or offense. Even something as precious as one’s very eyes. The specific mention of the eye here is not accidental. The previous warning against unchastity had specifically mentioned looking upon a woman with lust (Matt 5:28).

He continues in v. 29b noting that it would be better or more spiritually profitable to lose one member (and eye) than that one’s whole body should be cast into hell.

We’re reminded here that there is more preaching about and warning against hell from the Lord Jesus Christ than any other person in the Bible. Why do we believe in a literal hell as a place of punishment and judgment? Because Christ preached it.

He takes up the same theme in v. 30a: “And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast if from thee....”

Notice that he speaks especially of the right hand, which for most men is the dominant hand, which one relies upon to write, to play music, to grasp a hammer or a saw, to prepare a meal, to earn one’s livelihood. But even something so valuable should be cut off and cast aside, if it causes one to stumble.

It has also been noted that in Christ’s time there was no surgical anesthesia. To cut off one’s hand (as with plucking out the eye) would have been exceedingly painful. The point: Faithfulness to Christ will require changes to one’s life, removal of sin, that will be personally painful and perhaps even excruciatingly painful.

And yet he continues in v. 30b to note the spiritual profit that would come even from such radical surgery. Better to lose one’s right hand, than to have the whole body pitched into hell.

We might pause here and consider how this teaching is to be rightly interpreted, understood, and applied. Was Christ literally calling for men to pluck out their eyes and cut off their hands, if these things led them to impure thoughts and deeds?

Clearly Christ’s teaching here is not meant to be taken literally but figuratively and spiritually, though no less seriously. After all, one has only two eyes that can be plucked out. One has but two hands which may be chopped off. Blind men can still struggle with lust. Handless men can still struggle with lust. A man blind and paralyzed from the neck down can still be filled with impure thoughts!

The point is that Christ’s disciple is to be willing to part with anything, no matter how valuable and precious it may be to him, if it leads him into sin.

The Puritan exegete Matthew Poole observed:

“The sum of these two verses is, that the salvation of our immortal souls is to be preferred before all things, be they never so dear and precious to us; and that if men’s ordinary discretion teacheth them for the preservation of their bodies to cut off a particular member, which would necessarily endanger the whole body, it much more teacheth them to part with any thing that will prejudice the salvation of their souls.”

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, April 22, 2021

WM 202: Text Note: 1 John 4:19


WM 202: Text Note: 1 John 4:19 posted above. To find the PPT with the notes I used in this episode, look here.


Friday, April 16, 2021

The Vision (4.16.21): The Sin of Unjust Anger


Image: Redbud, North Garden, Virginia, April 2021

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 5:21-26.

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill…. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…. (Matthew 5:21-22).

I think all of Christ’s hearers would have had their ears prick up at this statement. As God gave the law on Sinai, Christ now speaks the law. What is the subtle meaning? Christ speaks with divine authority.

What does Christ announce? Not only that taking life is a sin against God, but so also is unjust anger.

Notice several important things about this teaching:

First, Christ draws a moral parallel between murder and unjust anger and says that God forbids both.

Second, Christ addresses unjust anger, in particular, against a “brother.” Some take this in a universal sense—referring to all our fellow human beings. So, it is like “neighbor” in “Love thy neighbor.” But most often this term is used in reference to Christian “brothers,” fellow disciples who share a like precious faith in the Lord (cf. Matt 7:3; 18:15-17; 25:40).

Third, Christ addresses anger that arises unjustly or “without a cause.” In Greek, the phrase “without a cause” is a single adverb. Some modern translations (based on modern texts) omit that phrase, making Christ appear to say, even more rigorously, that anger in itself, whether with or without cause, is always sinful.

I think such texts and translations are incorrect. They do not take into account righteous indignation or godly anger. Christ himself demonstrated this kind of righteous indignation during his ministry, as when he drove out the money changers from the temple. Yet he never sinned in so doing. The apostle Paul, likewise, taught, “Be angry, and sin not” (Eph 4:26).

Fourth, Christ says that the person who becomes unjustly anger is guilty of the judgement, just as is the man who commits murder. This means not only the judgement of man but also, most importantly, of God himself.

Christ teaches that a man who claims to be a brother but who is constantly fussing and fuming, red in the face, looking to criticize or pick a fight, acting like a boiler ready to explode, is guilty of violating the sixth commandment. Malicious anger is the moral equivalent of murder.

From this, the Christian must flee.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, April 09, 2021

The Vision (4.9.21): But God raised him from the dead


Image: Golden Euonymous, North Garden, Virginia, April 2021.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Acts 13.

But God raised him from the dead (Acts 13:30).

In Acts 13 Luke records the sermon preached by Paul in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch.

The center of Paul’s message is the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In v. 28 Paul stresses the innocence of Christ. No legitimate “cause” was found for putting him to death: “And though no cause of death was found in him...” Pilate washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of the blood of the just person” (Matt 27:24). Even one of the thieves crucified alongside Christ recognized Christ’s innocence and was converted, telling his fellow malefactor that they were being crucified “justly” for their crimes, “but this man hath done nothing amiss” (Luke 23:41).

In v. 29 Paul emphasizes the fact that even the wicked actions of the men who crucified Christ served to fulfill the Scriptures: “And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him….” By placing Christ on the tree (the cross) where he died and then having his body being placed in the tomb, Christ was not defeated, but Scripture was fulfilled.

Here is something that ought to comfort us in our distress. The more wicked men attempt to oppose God and harm his people, the more they fulfill his word and hasten the Lord’s ultimate victory.

It seemed that evil had triumphed. Christ had died and been placed in the tomb. Then, we come to v. 30: “But God raised him from the dead.” If there had been no crucifixion, there would have been no resurrection. If there had been no death, there would have been no life. Had there been no defeat, there would have been no victory.

Notice that Paul also stresses the resurrection appearances (v. 31: “And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem….”).

The sermon at Pisidian Antioch, follows the outline of the gospel Paul recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8: Christ’s death on the cross, his burial, his glorious resurrection, and his resurrection appearances.

This remains the standard for faithful preaching of the gospel to the present hour.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, April 08, 2021

WM 200: QR Article: The Coherence-Based Genealogical Method: The Newest 'New' Method


Above are audio versions of my article that appears in the Trinitarian Bible Society's Quarterly Record, Issue No. 635 (April-June, 2021): 12-19.


Friday, April 02, 2021

WM 199: Interview: Crawford Gribben, Survival and Resistance


The Vision: Christ's Fulfillment of the Law


Image: Forsythia, North Garden, Virginia, April 2021.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 5:17-20.

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfill (Matthew 5:17).

There are at least five key themes in Matthew 5:17-20:

First: Christ and the Old Testament (v. 17):

When Christ says he came not to destroy the law of the prophets, one may take this as a reference to the Old Testament, which ancient Jews often divided into three parts: the law, the prophets, and the writings (cf. Luke 24:44).

Christ here affirms the Old Testament as the first part of the Christian Bible. One of the earliest heresies was that of Marcion who rejected the Old Testament. Many today are “practical Marconites.” We should, however, read the Old Testament devotionally, and it should be preached in our churches.

Second: Christ and the Law (vv. 17-18):

Some Christians wrongly think that all the law is now void and null. Reformed theology teaches the threefold view of the law: the moral law, as epitomized in the Ten Commandments, is still fulling binding; the ceremonial law, is abrogated; and the civil law is expired, though the general equity of its principles might still be applied.

Paul will write that the law is “holy” (Rom 7:12). He will add: “But the law is good, if a man uses it lawfully” (1 Tim 1:8).

Third: Christ and the preservation of Scripture (v. 18):

When Christ says that not one jot or tittle of the law will pass away, he is making reference to the slightest pen stroke in the writing of Scripture.  Christ promises the plenary verbal preservation of his Word.

Fourth: Christ and the doing of the word (v. 19):

Christ here warns against those who break the least of the commandments and teach others to do the same (v. 19a). They will be called least in the kingdom. Positively he commends the one who does and teaches these commandments (v. 19b). He will be called great in the kingdom.

Fifth: Christ and the higher righteousness (v. 20):

The scribes and Pharisees are usually the “bad guys” in the Gospels, but Christ here commends them. His disciples are to have a higher righteousness than the most religious men of their day. This touches the theme of the “impossible ideal.” We cannot attain such righteousness. It must come to us from Christ (2 Cor 5:21).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle