Thursday, March 31, 2022

Augustine: The Four Gospels Are United, Because They Were All Written By Christ


Image: St. Augustine, writing in his cell, by Sandro Botticelli, 1480.

Here are some notes from Augustine’s Harmony of the Evangelists 1.35, which I shared on twitter (@Riddle1689). As he concluded Book 1, Augustine returned to his purpose for this book, namely, to defend the unity and harmony of the Four Gospels against the pagan critics. One of their arguments was that Jesus left behind no writings and that his disciples had distorted the account of his life and teachings.


Why does Augustine say the four Gospels have essential unity and can be harmonized?

Harmony 1.35: It is because Christ "stands to all his disciples in the relation of the Head to the members of his body."

Harmony 1.35: "Therefore when those disciples [the evangelists] have written matters which he declared and spake to them, it ought not by any means to be said he [Jesus] has written nothing of himself; since the truth is, that his members have accomplished only what they became acquainted with by the repeated statements of the Head."

Harmony 1.35: "For all that he [Jesus] was minded to give... he commanded to be written by those disciples whom he used as if they were his own hands."

Harmony 1.35: When one reads any of the four Gospels "he might look upon the actual hand of the Lord himself... to see it engaged in the act of writing."


Monday, March 28, 2022

Augustine, Harmony of the Evangelists.1.33-35: "As if they were his own hands"



1.33: A statement in opposition to those who make the complaint that the bliss of human life has been impaired by the entrance of Christian times.

Augustine defends Christianity against critics who charge that its rise has impaired “the bliss of human life.” He makes reference to the fact that the triumph of Christianity has indeed resulted in the decline of theaters, the closing of dens of vices, and the celebrations of some sports. Only those of low character, however, would protest the diminishment of such things. Christianity has not brought about the failure of “true prosperity” but rescued society from sinking “into all that is base and hurtful.”

1.34: Epilogue to the preceding.

Nearing the end of Book 1, Augustine returns to his purpose for writing this book. He wants to show that the Gospels can be harmonized. He adds that the Gospels are sufficient, without there being any extant writings from Jesus himself. The disciples did not give a false account of his life, and Jesus was not a mere man albeit with exalted wisdom. The prophecies of the Old Testament predicted that Jesus would forbid the worship of the pagan gods. His disciples did not depart from his teaching.

1.35: Of the fact that the mystery of the Mediator was made known to those who lived in ancient times by the agency of prophecy, as it is now declared to us in the Gospel.

Augustine begins by noting that Christ himself is the wisdom of God of which the prophets spoke. Drawing on Plato’s Timaeus, he notes a distinction between things above (eternity and truth) and things below (things made and faith). Christ is the Mediator between these two realms, and between God and man. Christ is the center of faith (things made) and truth (things eternal). This mystery was spoken about by the prophets. Christ now stands as head of the body. There is no need to have anything written by Jesus, for when his disciples wrote it was as though he himself was “engaged in the act of writing.” He used the evangelists, "as if they were his own hands."


Book 1 is brought to a conclusion. Augustine responds with a final apologetic thrust against pagan critics, defending Christianity against charges of being “puritanical.” He reinforces the fact that his goal in this work is to demonstrate that the Gospels can be harmonized and that they accurately reflect the teaching of Jesus. Though we have no writings from Jesus himself, the Gospels are sufficient to convey what Jesus taught.


Friday, March 25, 2022

The Vision (3.25.22): Spurgeon on the Parable of the Tares of the field


Image: Forsythia, North Garden, Virginia, March 2022.

Note: Ipreached last Sunday on the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-44 (or, as the disciples call it in Matt 13:36, “the parable of the tares of the field”). As I’ve preached through Matthew I have been reading Spurgeon’s commentary on this Gospel (Matthew: The Gospel of the Kingdom, Banner of Truth, 1893, 2019). Here are a few quotations from Spurgeon I tweeted out this week:

Matt 13:28: "He said unto them, An enemy hath done this...."

Spurgeon: "It may have been a learned doctor, or a clever poet, or a treacherous orator, who scattered doubt among the people, and introduced skeptics into the church; but the worker behind the scenes, the real author of the mischief, is always the devil himself."

Matt 13:29: "But he said, Nay, lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them."

Spurgeon: "Hasty disciplinarians have often cast out the best and retained the worst. Where evil is clear and open, we may not hesitate to deal with it; but where it is questionable, we had better hold our hand till we have fuller guidance."

Matt 13:30: "Let both grow together...."

Spurgeon: "Magistrates and churches may remove the openly wicked from their society; the outwardly good who are inwardly worthless they must leave; for the judging of hearts is beyond their sphere."

Matt 13:38: "The field is the world...."

Spurgeon: "In many cases the cruel treatment of the very best men has been produced by the notion that they were erroneous teachers and therefore ought not to be tolerated. To contend earnestly against error by spiritual means is right and needful, but to use carnal weapons, and other remedies of force, is absolute folly and wickedness. This world is now a field of mingled growths, and so it must be till the end come."

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Augustine, Harmony of the Evangelists.1.31-32: "The God of the whole earth" (Isaiah 54:5)


Image: Isaiah, 1838, Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891)


1.31: The fulfillment of prophecies concerning Christ.

Augustine continues to stress the prophecies concerning Christ from the Old Testament. He is critical of pagans who might outwardly applaud Christ but deny that he taught that the pagan gods should be abandoned and the images destroyed.

Much attention is given to the reading and exposition of the servant song in Isaiah 52:13—54:5, including the statement in Isaiah 54:5 that the Biblical God is “the God of the whole earth.” This servant song, sometimes known as the Fifth Gospel, provided a classic prophetic passion prediction in the eyes of early Christians. Augustine points out, of course, that the pagans did not typically deny the passion of Christ, so much as his resurrection. He sees in the flowering and triumph of the Christian movement in the Roman world, the fulfillment of these prophesies, since the Christian God is, indeed, the God of the whole world.

1.32: A statement in vindication of the doctrine of the apostles as opposed to idolatry, in the words of the prophecies.

Augustine challenges pagans who deny the prophecies by saying Christ used magical arts or that the disciples invented them. He notes how the Christian movement has extended among all the Gentile nations, surpassing the synagogue, and enlarging its tent. It has even extended beyond the bounds of the Roman Empire to the “barbarous nations” (the Persians and Indians). The church has overcome the age of persecution when she was covered with the blood of the martyrs “like one clad in purple array.”

It is plain to even “the slowest and dullest minds” that the Christian God is now “the God of the whole earth.” He challenges the pagans to bring forward any of their prophecies or divinations that prove otherwise. He notes that many pagans say their gods have deserted them, because they have offended these gods. They fail to see the failure of their religion is due instead to Christ’s triumph in fulfillment of prophecy.


Augustine continues his apologetic against the pagan religions. Though this is a work on the Gospels, he wants to make plain that the life of Christ, including his passion, was a fulfillment of the Old Testament writings, especially Isaiah. He sees the triumph of Christianity in the Roman Empire and even beyond as a providential evidence of the truth of the Christian faith.


Saturday, March 19, 2022

Text Note: Luke 4:18: "to heal the brokenhearted"


Image: North Garden, Virginia. March 19, 2022.

From my twitter (@Riddle1689) (3/17/22):

Devotional reading today in Luke 4 on Christ's Nazareth sermon. Sad to see that the modern text omits the phrase "to heal the brokenhearted [ιασασθαι τους συντετριμμενους την καρδιαν]" (v. 18).

The phrase is there in the source of the quotation at Isaiah 61:1, but modern scholars would see its omission as the supposedly "more difficult" reading.

The phrase appears in the early uncial Codex Alexandrinus, and it is the consensus reading of the Majority Text. It's also there in early versions like the Syriac Peshitta.

It's there in all the old Protestant translations (cf. in English: Tyndale, Geneva, KJV) based on the Received Text.

The phrase is missing, however, in Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. Wescott and Hort, therefore, omitted it from their Greek NT (1881).

It was then omitted from the English Revised Version (1881) and from the other modern translations that flowed from that stream (ASV, RSV, ESV).


Friday, March 18, 2022

The Vision (3.18.22): Who are the Stony Ground Hearers?


Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 13:1-23 (audio not yet available).

But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet he hath not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended (Matthew 13:20-21).

It has been suggested that Christ’s parable of the sower in Matthew 13 might well be called the parable of the soils. Christ describes four soils on which the seed lands: the path, the stony ground, the thorns, and the good soil.

Who are the stony ground hearers? These are they who hear the word and “anon [euthus, immediately]” receive it with joy. Initially that sounds encouraging. Some seem to receive the gospel quickly and easily and, even, joyfully. They seem to love God and the things of God. They are very enthusiastic and energetic, or so it seems.

Christ continues, “Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while [proskairos: for a time]” (v. 21a). He adds, “For when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended [skandalizo, to stumble].”

Some take this description as a challenge to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Is Christ taking about someone who truly becomes a Christian but then is un-Christianized, or who de-converts, or has his faith de-constructed?

We have to use the whole counsel of God here. We know there are places where the final perseverance of the saints is clearly taught. See John 10:28-29 which proclaims that no man is able to pluck the believer from the Father’s hand.

We need, therefore, to conclude that the stony ground hearers are not genuine believers who fall from grace, but false professors. They have perhaps even deluded themselves into thinking they are born again, when, in fact, they were never soundly converted. For a season, they could walk the walk and talk the talk, and they may even have done so joyfully. But it was not real, and when trial and persecutions came, they dropped it as quickly as they had picked it up.

Remember what Christ told his apostles: “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 10:22).

This is, in fact, addressed in our 1689 confession of faith. In chapter 10 “Of Effectual Calling” in paragraph 4 it speaks of those who are not elect, who might appear to be outwardly called by the preaching of the word and who might evidence what it calls “some common operations of the Spirit,” and yet who are not effectually called and so do not truly come to Christ and are not saved.

Likewise, in chapter 18 “Of Assurance of Grace and Salvation” in the first paragraph it speaks of “temporary believers and other unregenerate men” who “vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions” of being saved, but who are not. This would be proven by the fact that they do not abide in Christ.

As I heard someone recently put it, there are only two tests to prove that we are not mere stony ground hearers: time and fruit.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Article: R. L. Vaughn, Why "Which Textus Receptus"?



In 2020, Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal published Mark Ward’s “Which Textus Receptus? A Critique of Confessional Bibliology.” [i] Two years later, Mark Ward believes this has not been answered. Two years later, I have found about a half-dozen answers to “Which Textus Receptus.”[ii] The discrepancy, apparently, is that the writers believe they have answered Ward, and Ward believes they have not. This addition to the pot is not my “answer to’ but some “thoughts on” Mark Ward’s “Which Textus Receptus.”

“Which TR” is not a question of fact.

Why does Mark Ward ask “Which Textus Receptus?” The question is not a question of inquiry about a fact. By that, I mean Mark does not actually want or need to know whether Robert Vaughn uses the 1881/1894 Scrivener, Doug Wilson uses the 1550 Stephanus, and so on. He is already aware, for example, that “There is one edition of the Greek New Testament that [the mainstream KJV-Only movement, rlv] consistently uses in its various educational institutions: Scrivener’s TR, particularly the edition put out by the Trinitarian Bible Society.”[iii] He further notes, “This 29th and final TR is the one used today by basically all who prefer the TR.”[iv] In addition, “Various influential defenders of the TR have pointed to Scrivener (Riddle, Truelove, the Trinitarian Bible Society, and many others), Stephanus (Douglas Wilson), and Beza (Chuck Surrett, who later pointed to Scrivener instead), as the best—or, in some cases, the perfect—exemplar of the TR tradition.”[v]

That “Which TR” is not a question of fact can be seen when Mark answers his own question. Regarding the group discussed first, he says, “the answer of mainstream KJV-Onlyism to the question, ‘Which TR?’ is: ‘The KJV’.”[vi] Regarding the second group, he summarizes, “Confessional Bibliology’s answer to the question, ‘Which TR?’ is ‘The KJV’.”[vii]

So there you have it. Mark Ward is not inquiring of us who use the Textus Receptus to find out which TR we use, or what we believe about it. He inquires for a different purpose – a reason that is set out in his “Abstract.” His idea is to demonstrate that TR proponents should not divide from evangelical textual critics over bibliology, since the views of TR proponents “differ only in degree and not in kind from the majority view of textual criticism.”[viii]

Ostensibly, the basic argument of his paper is “meant to build a bridge between TR defenders and that majority evangelical position.” Apparently, he thinks that bridge can be built by convincing TR advocates that we all “are in the same boat” – that is, the TR is just as much a critical text as the Critical Text (“our views differ only in degree and not in kind”). On the other hand, in my opinion, he shoots his entire premise in the foot by concluding that all TR advocates are simply covert KJV-Onlyists.

“Which TR” is a stratagem of debate.

By stratagem here, I mean a skillful plan or maneuver used to gain an advantage over the opposing disputant. Knocked off balance, perhaps the TR supporters will be confused, unable to answer, and begin to see the “error” of their ways.[ix]

Mark delicately crafts a list that totals “in fact, twenty-eight TRs,” strikingly equivalent in quantity to the numbering of Nestle-Aland editions of the Greek New Testament. Additionally, he speaks of the Scrivener-created TR as the 29th, which will be the number of the next published NA.[x] I question the equivalency beyond a numerical coincidence, and even that coincidence. In a blog post, Mark makes a comparison between the number of TRs and NAs, writing, “But by my count, Scrivener’s TR was actually the 29th major TR.”[xi] However, for example, in “Which Textus Receptus? A Critique of Confessional Bibliology” he wrote, “Theodore Beza produced five major and five minor editions of the TR between 1565 and 1604.”  Minor editions are not major editions and therefore not counted as such.[xii]

I think others have pushed back on the differences in kind between the TR and NA. I do not intend to go there. Let others do so. I merely point out that we are settled with what we have. We do not rush to correct and change the Textus Receptus in light of every new discovery. All must acknowledge that it true, because that is one of the continual complaints of modern textual critics to TR advocates. It is old, outdated, untouched by the oldest, latest, biggest, and best. As Mark writes, there is a “final TR.” There will never be a “final NA,” and I perceive Christians will be no better off for that fact.

This coincidence of numbering, however, is not Mark’s main point, but more of an accidental one. The “nuts and bolts” of “Which Textus Receptus” is this:

…I demonstrate that two particular TR editions carry all but one of the same kinds of differences that occur between the TRs and the critical texts of the GNT. I argue that neither mainstream KJV-Onlyism nor Confessional Bibliology can justify dividing from the majority of evangelical biblical scholars over its doctrines: their views differ only in degree and not in kind from the majority view of textual criticism.[xiii]

The basic argument of this paper, then, is meant to build a bridge between TR defenders and that majority evangelical position. It is meant, to use another image, to reveal that they—we—are in the same boat. The Lord in his good providence has not given any Christian warrant to claim exhaustive and perfect certainty in our textual criticism of the New Testament. TR defenders must stop claiming to have a “pure” and “absolute” text; that claim is, quite simply, causing brothers and sisters to divide unnecessarily.[xiv]

I ask, “Who is dividing from whom?” I sit where I have always.

We Traditional Text and KJV advocates are not all agreed on all the details about the KJV. No, all TR proponents are not rabid KJV-Onlyists.[xv] However, I think we are all agreed on this – we are not interested in modernizing the King James Bible. No lasting good can come of it. It will only further divide a consistent group of Christians (the KJV is still the Bible more English Christians read than any other) who, in the face of hundreds of Bible translations available to English-speaking people, continue to share a continuum, community, and commitment to one Bible, the Authorized or King James Bible. We do not wish to give that up.


I was raised in a church made up of people who  believed they possessed the Bible, the words that God gave. The inspired Bible. They were not KJV-Onlyists of the modern kind, but they only used the KJV. They never talked about being KJV biblicists, KJV believers, KJV-Only, or any such talk. They mentioned nothing about other translations beyond the occasional talk of the RSV, such as the “young woman” vs. “virgin” issue.[xvi] The average members knew the Bible, what it said, what they should believe, how they should live. They knew no Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, not much of the history of Bible transmission, and nothing about textual criticism. Yet, their lives proved they knew and believed their Bibles. Somehow, I cannot help but believe that they were better off in their world than the morass in which we now live.[xvii]

I am reminded of a story I heard long ago when I was young. Now I am old. The story tells of an old man and old woman, husband and wife, who were riding along in their old Chevrolet pickup truck.[xviii] Sitting by the passenger door, she looked out the window and began to reminisce about old times. Remember going here. Remember going there. Remember doing this. Remember doing that. Then she waxed a bit wistful, “Remember how we used to sit so close in this old truck?” He looked at her affectionately, with a bit of a wry grin, and replied, “I haven’t moved.

[i] Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, Volume 25, 2020, 51-77.
[ii] By this, I mean I have found their existence by Google searching. I do not mean I have read them all.
[iii] “Which Textus Receptus? A Critique of Confessional Bibliology,” page 56.
[iv] Ibid., page 53.
[v] Ibid., page 60.
[vi] Ibid., pp. 56-57.
[vii] Ibid., page 54.
[viii] Ibid., page 51.
[ix] This is neither a charge nor a complaint, but merely a simple assessment. Debaters use strategy to make their points.
[x] “An international and interconfessional editorial board is currently preparing the 29th edition. It will bring many changes, especially in the Gospel of Mark and the Acts of the Apostles.” “The Novum Testamentum Graece (Nestle-Aland) and its history
[xi] Bold emphasis mine. “Is the Textus Receptus Perfect in Every Jot and Tittle? Ambrose vs. Scrivener” Accessed 2021,
[xii] I suppose one might also discuss whether all the NAs are “major” editions.
[xiii] “Which Textus Receptus? A Critique of Confessional Bibliology,” page 51.
[xiv] Ibid., page 77. “Causing brothers and sisters to divide” could encompass actively splitting churches or simply something keeping us from working together. In The History of the King James Only Controversy within the Independent Baptist Churches: Its Effect and Importance, 1964-2000, Frederick Widdowson wrote, “As a controversy it split churches apart” (p. 9). However, neither his thesis shows nor my own research indicates that such individual church splits have occurred in abundance. It is my opinion this is greatly exaggerated. As far as the other, I suspect the Bible versions issue seldom is the sole cause of keeping us separated. While Mark chides us as separationists (i.e., the reason for division), he is actively engaged in a speaking and writing war that will divide the Christians who agree on using the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible (and will not unite those who disagree on the TR vs. CT).
[xv] For example, I believe there could be changes introduced, but do not believe they can be profitably agreed upon by the aggregate of King James Bible readers. Therefore, leave it alone. In the late 19th century Westcott, Hort, and company broke the stable thread of progressively minor updates to the King James translation of the Bible and ruined the possibility of effectively doing so in the future.
[xvi] Which might be brought up in Sunday School literature.
[xvii] That said, I realize we are not going back to simpler times.
[xviii] Our old pickups had bench seats way back when.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

WM 230: PROBLEMS with modern text advocacy: Are Gurry and Hixson reconstructing the autograph?


A few quotes:

D. C. Parker: "We can use philology to reconstruct an Initial Text. But we need not then believe that the Initial Text is an authorial text, or a definitive text, or the only form in which the works once circulated" Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament, 29).

Tommy Wasserman and Peter J. Gurry: "Textual criticism is a discipline that tries to restore texts.... Where that is not possible, it aims to reach back as closely to the initial text as it can" (A New Approach to Textual Criticism: An Introduction to the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method, 1-2).

Daniel B. Wallace: "We do not have now--in our critical Greek texts or any translations--exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it" (Foreword, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii).

Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry: "Simply put, we believe the textual evidence we have is sufficient to reconstruct, in most cases, what the authors of the New Testament wrote. We cannot do this with equal certainty in every case...." (Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, 20).


Monday, March 14, 2022

Notes on Plato's Crito


Image: Marble bust of Socrates, Roman copy, c. 1-2 century, AD.

Continuing my reading notes on Plato’s Tetralogy (see previous here):

Notes on Plato’s Crito (translated by F. J. Church):

Parallels between Platonic and Christian views of civil law:


The setting: Socrates’s older friend Crito offers to arrange for Socrates’s escape from prison, but Socrates refuses.

Socrates’s refusal is based on his view of the necessity of the “rule of law”: “Do you think that a state can exist and not be overthrown, in which decisions of law are no force, and are disregarded by private individuals?”

Socrates has an imaginary dialogue with the law-bearing state. If he escaped the state might well ask, “Are you not breaking your contracts and agreements with us?” (42).

He asks, “for who would be satisfied with a state which had no laws?”

Question: What would Plato say about obedience to contemporary state sanctioned rules (e.g., vaccine or mask mandates, etc.)?


Compare this to Jesus’s retort: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt 22:21). See Paul’s teaching on civil government: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers….” (Rom 13:1-7). And also Peter’s: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake….” (1 Peter 2:13-15).


Parallels between Platonic and Christian views on an ethic of non-retaliation:


In the dialogue with the state, it asks, “But if you repay evil with evil, and injustice with injustice… and break your agreements and covenants with us…. then we shall be angry with you.”


Compare this to Jesus’s ethic of non-retaliation in the Sermon on the Mount (e.g., Matt 5:38-39), with Paul’s admonition not to seek vengeance (Rom 12:19-21), and Peter’s admiration of Jesus who “when he was reviled, reviled not again” (1 Peter 2:23).



Saturday, March 12, 2022

Notes on Plato's Apology


Image: The death of Socrates, Jacques Louis David, 1787.

Last week I started re-reading the tetralogy from Plato’s dialogues regarding the last days of Socrates (Apology, Crito, Euthyphro, and Phaedo).

Notes from Apology (Benjamin Jowett translation):

Parallels between Socrates and the apostles:

On dealing with efforts to suppress teaching:

Socrates tells the men of Athens, “I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy….”

He later says, “For I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought of your persons or your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul.”

And adds, “but whichever you do, understand that I shall never alter my ways, not even if I have to die many times.”

Compare this to Luke’s account of the apostles and their persistence in public preaching and teaching the gospel in the face of attempted suppression at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem:

“But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).


On death:

Socrates: “But I see clearly that the time had arrived when it was better for me to die and to be released from trouble….”

“The hour of departure has arrived…”

Compare Paul’s testament:

“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand….” (2 Tim 4:6-8).


Were the NT accounts influenced by Plato (or Jowett’s translation of Plato by the NT)?



Friday, March 11, 2022

Vision (3.11.22): His mother and his brethren stood without


Image: Twelfth century façade of the supposed Tomb of the Virgin Mary in Jerusalem.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 12:46-50.

“While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him” (Matthew 12:46).

How astonished Christ’s family members must have been at the great throng, the multitude that had been drawn to the Lord Jesus Christ!

Many have been struck by the descriptions of Christ’s family within the Gospels. On one hand, some of them, especially Mary his mother, understood very early on the special person and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Gabriel’s announcement to her in Luke 1:30-33).

One of the sad things to happen later in church history was the rise of an ungodly and inappropriate emphasis upon Mary among some Christians that continues to this day, so that more attention was to Mary than to the Lord Jesus himself. When that happens, it can rightly be described as Mariolatry.

We should not let that later error overshadow, however, the fact that in the Gospels Mary is generally presented as one of the earliest disciples of the Lord Jesus, even if her full understanding of Christ’s identity came not immediately but, as with other disciples, only through a more gradual process.

Matthew says his brethren were also there. Luke tells us plainly that the Lord Jesus was the “firstborn [prōtotokos]” son of Mary (Luke 2:7). Later in Matthew we have mention of his “brethren” (13:53-56). Were these half-siblings or extended kinsmen? The old Puritan exegete Matthew Poole observed, “For the brethren of Christ and his sisters, here mentioned, the most by them understand his near relations.”

Although some of Christ’s family members (like presumably Mary and James) seem to have become his disciples very early in his ministry, others were slower to reach that conclusion. In fact, in John 7:15 the beloved disciple makes this striking statement: “For neither did his brethren believe in him.”

Even here in Matthew 12 it says the family “stood without” (v. 46, 47). In Mark 3:21 we read, “And when his friends [lit. “those with him”; a KJV translation note offers “kinsmen” as an alternative rendering] heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.Historians talk about the “criterion of embarrassment.” If it sounds unflattering, it must be true. Surely this is a trustworthy tradition. The apostles were not embarrassed to record the fact that early on his ministry some of Christ’s family members did not believe in him and “stood outside” his inner circle.

What this proves, in fact, is the true humanity of Christ. He came as a true man. He did not come with a halo around his head or floating six inches off the ground. What did Isaiah prophesy of him? See Isaiah 53:2b, “he hath no form or comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” If he had been anything other than a true man, he could not have accomplished what he did for us. Paul says, “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham” (see Hebrews 2:16-17; cf. Hebrews 4:15).

This tells us who Christ was in his incarnation. That he was a true man is made clear by the fact that even his own family members took some time to come to faith in him. But it also tells us ultimately who he is as the Son of God, because once he was raised from the dead, those same family members, some of whom were slow to come to faith in him, were soundly converted.

Notice Luke’s description of the apostles after Christ’s resurrection and ascension in Acts 1, to which he adds in Acts 1:14, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” It was the resurrection that convinced them! It’s been said that the greatest proof of the truth of the resurrection is the fact that those who saw the risen Jesus were forever changed by that experience.

Here is something to consider historically: After the resurrection, there is no record of any family member of the Lord Jesus rejecting his claim to be the Messiah. Believe me, if such persons had existed, they would have been called up by the various Jewish and pagan critics and skeptics. But after the resurrection there are no historical references to the family members of the Lord Jesus NOT believing in him. Just the opposite, there are abundant witnesses to the fact that his family members became faithful disciples of Christ, many even offering up their lives for their faith in him.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Andy Crouch: Why physical books are better than digital screens


Our family has been reading Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family (Baker, 2017) in family devotions. Just finished an interesting section where he talks about the advantages of reading a physical book rather than reading from a screen.

Citing Abigail Sellen’s The Myth of the Paperless Office, Crouch notes, “the physical act of reading a book with its bounded pages, helps strengthen the learning of the concepts inside. (If you are reading this book in physical form, you may well remember, hours or days from now, where on the page and how far into the book this very sentence was found—a physical memory of your senses from eyes and hands that will reinforce the ideas you absorbed at the same time. This experience will be missing if you read it on a digital screen, with no fixed location on a page, no weight of the two halves of the book in your hands, and the idea itself will be harder to remember)” (125-126).

He adds:

“Likewise, physically taking notes with a pen or pencil on paper—the act of forming physical letters by hand, with the twists and turns of the letter forms and the accumulating fatigue and need for rest—turns out to aid memorization and learning, even if we never consult the notes again” (126).

I think I’ll share this quote with my students.

And yeah, I get the irony of the fact that I’m posting this in digital form.


The "brethren" of Christ: Siblings or Kinsmen?


Image: Traditional site of Mary's house in Ephesus.

Posted this on twitter yesterday and thought I’d repost here (reflecting on Sunday’s sermon on Matt 12:46-50 and the mention of Christ’s mother and brethren “standing without”):

Interesting how many of the early Protestant interpreters see the "brethren" of Jesus as kinsmen rather than siblings. M. Poole on Matt 13:55-56: "For the brethren of Christ and his sisters, here mentioned, the most of them understand his near relations."

M. Poole on "brother" in Mark 6:3: "that is, the kinsman, (as most interpret it,) supposing Mary, the mother of our Lord had no more children: I shall not determine it."

M. Poole on the brethren of Mark 6:3 (cont.): "They say these four were the children of Mary, sister to the mother of our Lord, and the wife of Cleophas [Mark 15:40; 16:1]."


Note: See also my article, "Who Wrote the Epistle of James?"

Monday, March 07, 2022

WM 229: Interjú: Miklós Chiciudean, Reformált Baptista Gyülekezet, Budapest


My first attempt to do a podcast interview in Hungarian. Thanks to Pastor Miklós for his patience.

For a similar conversation in English, see WM 228.


Friday, March 04, 2022

The Vision (3.4.22): We would see a sign from thee

Image: Beaded work, from "These Memories Can't Wait: Beryl Solla, A Retrospective," PVCC, Charlottesville, Virginia, March 2022

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 12:38-45.

Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee (Matthew 12:38).

The skeptics of Christ asked a sign from him. In Luke’s account he says, “And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven” (Luke 11:16). In John’s Gospel, this word “sign [sémeion]” is one of his favorite words to describe the miracles of the Lord Jesus.

But what has Christ just done? He healed a man blind and mute, by casting out a demon (Matthew 12:22). What we learn is that those who reject Christ are never satisfied by the evidence of his authority and power. They always claim to need just a little more! Those whose faith is based on their experiences are never satisfied by those experiences.

Of course, they were also trying to manipulate our Lord, to control him, to have him do their bidding, to make him their servant, rather than bending the knee before him as their Lord. Do you recall Christ’s description of this generation as being like fickle children in the marketplace (11:16-17)?

Consider Christ’s account of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16. The Rich Man in hell looks to Father Abraham and asks him to send Lazarus from the dead to warn his five brothers about this place of torment. That would have been quite a sign! But how did Abraham respond? “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (v. 29). And, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (v. 31).

Here too the scribes and Pharisees ask for a sign, and Christ gives them the Bible. First, he rebukes them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall be no sign given to it….” (Matthew 12:39). Then, he points them to the Scriptures, to Jonah and Solomon, declaring, “a greater than Jonas is here” (v. 41), and “a greater than Solomon is here” (v. 42).

In the light of the reality of who Christ is and how God has revealed him in the Scriptures, will one really say that he needs something else to make him believe? You say you need a sign? You need more evidence? He has risen from the dead. You have the Scriptures. Is that not enough?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle