Lessons in Thanksgiving from the Hebrew Bible

Dr. Glaser shares vital truths from The Law. The Psalmist often praises God for His perfect Law revealing His care for his chosen. The Law functioned on many levels. One of those levels is human relations in the covenant community. All blessings ultimately come from God but those He has blessed could also bless others. This reminds me of Christ’s statement: It is more blessed to give than to receive.


Source: Lessons in Thanksgiving from the Hebrew Bible

Bart Ehrman Book Review (Michael Marlowe)

Michael Marlowe exposes the real reasons Dr. Ehrman has such trouble with the bible. This review is over three years old on a book that was published ten years ago. However, these false charges need further exposure since Christians are to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered (Jude 3). Anyone can scoff and mock without substance and this is what Bart Ehrman has done in Misquoting Jesus.  

Bart Ehrman and his Bible

Misquoting Jesus reviewed by Michael Marlowe

Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus was published seven years ago, but I have just now gotten around to reading it. I was already familiar with this author, because some years ago I read a book by him called The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (1993). I disagreed with much of his earlier book, and I doubt that most scholars will think his handling of text-critical questions is sufficiently sober and sound. Ehrman is a “character” and a bit of a “bad boy” in the field. He obviously enjoys being provocative. He loves far-fetched theological explanations for variants which other scholars explain much more plausibly in other ways. But Orthodox Corruption was not unscholarly, it was unusually interesting, and, in my opinion, it was worth reading. So I supposed that this new book would at least be worth a look.

This is a popular-level book, which purports to be a layman’s introduction to textual criticism: “written for people who know nothing about textual criticism but who might like to learn something about how scribes were changing scripture and how we can recognize where they did so” (p. 15). But it soon became obvious to me that the book is really just Ehrman’s attempt to popularize the most peculiar and questionable ideas that he labored to make a scholarly case for in his Orthodox Corruption book. As an introduction to the field it is very skewed and inadequate, and it simply ignores scholarly criticism of his views, and so I cannot recommend it as an introduction. It also includes discussions about his own personal problems with Christianity, and some theological ruminations, which may be found interesting to some laymen, but which are not relevant to the subject of textual criticism. The theological portions of the book, in which he wanders far from his rather narrow area of expertise, consist mostly of snarky rhetorical questions, which are apparently designed to justify (to an audience of confirmed atheists) his own personal rejection of Christianity. But his remarks on this subject do not amount to any substantial argument that would impress someone trained in theology. Ehrman thinks that the mere possibility of an error in copying destroys the whole idea of the Bible’s inspiration. He repeatedly urges this notion on the reader, as if it constituted an unanswerable argument. He seems to have little education in such theological questions. In fact the book does not bring before us any considerations that would impugn the traditional Christian doctrine of inspiration. I did not expect Ehrman to be so theologically naive, intellectually shallow, and merely annoying, as he so often is in this book.

I hear that this book became a “best-seller,” after some journalists praised it to the skies. These journalists were not, of course, able to evaluate the scholarly pretensions of the book; but clearly they enjoyed the parts that any liberal smart aleck could have written. And so it came to pass that the book was bought by public libraries all over the country, and it has been thoroughly rubbed in the face of the American public. Several reviews of Misquoting Jesus written by competent scholars, and published online, have refuted various misleading statements of the book. But I have not found one that makes certain points that I think are important for an understanding of this book.

The main theological argument of the book is that the Christian teaching concerning the inspiration of the Bible is rendered practically meaningless by the very existence of variations in the manuscripts. But Ehrman does not adequately describe or interact with the traditional Christian teachings on this subject. He mentions only the jejune notion of inspiration that he was exposed to as a teenager at Moody Bible Institute between 1973 and 1976, and his argument relies upon the rhetorical effect that personal anecdotes will have on an audience of laymen.

In his Introduction, Ehrman describes the beginnings of his college education. After leaving Moody Bible Institute, he went to Wheaton College to get a Bachelor’s degree. It was there that he began to learn Greek. He says that learning to read the Greek Testament, and realizing that the English versions were not perfectly equivalent to it, is what first caused him to question the inspiration of the Bible:

Learning Greek was a thrilling experience for me. As it turned out, I was pretty good at the basics of the language and was always eager for more. On a deeper level, however, the experience of learning Greek became a bit troubling for me and my view of scripture. I came to see early on that the full meaning and nuance of the Greek text of the New Testament could be grasped only when it is read and studied in the original language (the same thing applies to the Old Testament, as I later learned when I acquired Hebrew). All the more reason, I thought, for learning the language thoroughly. At the same time, this started making me question my understanding of scripture as the verbally inspired word of God. If the full meaning of the words of scripture can be grasped only by studying them in Greek (and Hebrew), doesn’t this mean that most Christians, who don’t read ancient languages, will never have complete access to what God wants them to know? And doesn’t this make the doctrine of inspiration a doctrine only for the scholarly elite, who have the intellectual skills and leisure to learn the languages and study the texts by reading them in the original? What good does it do to say that the words are inspired by God if most people have absolutely no access to these words, but only to more or less clumsy renderings of these words into a language, such as English, that has nothing to do with the original words? (pp. 6-7.)

We notice here, how Ehrman seems to have no idea of what role teachers are supposed to play in the Church. In his view, the inspiration of the Bible is useless if not everyone has immediate and complete access to the original text, so that every interested person can read it for himself, and understand it perfectly, without any help from a “scholarly elite.” The argument makes sense only on the assumption that a radically individualistic and egalitarian method is the only legitimate one that God could have used to enlighten mankind. He continues:

My questions were complicated even more as I began to think increasingly about the manuscripts that conveyed the words. The more I studied Greek, the more I became interested in the manuscripts that preserve the New Testament for us, and in the science of textual criticism, which can supposedly help us reconstruct what the original words of the New Testament were. I kept reverting to my basic question: how does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes—sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways. (p. 7)

Again, the assumption here is that God ought to give all people all of his words, without allowing any copyist to change one jot or tittle, or any fallible scholars to teach people what he wants them to know. Why did God not give, to all people without exception, the complete Bible by a perpetual miracle, without making use of ordinary human agents? There should have been no need for scribes, scholars, translators, and indeed no need for scripture writers, because in order for inspiration to do anyone any good, everyone in the world must receive every word of God immediately and individually. Presumably Ehrman would think that it is inconsistent with the whole idea of inspiration that Adam, for instance, did not have the opportunity to read Paul’s epistles. If Adam did not have such an opportunity, the epistles must not have been inspired, because it would serve no purpose. And so forth. He does not take under consideration the replies that any theologian might give to these remarks, and so his argument is not developed above the level of these rather silly objections. In the final chapter of the book Ehrman is still asking them:

The Bible is, by all counts, the most significant book in the history of Western civilization. And how do you think we have access to the Bible? Hardly any of us actually read it in the original language, and even among those of us who do, there are very few who ever look at a manuscript—let alone a group of manuscripts. How then do we know what was originally in the Bible? A few people have gone to the trouble of learning the ancient languages (Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, etc.) and have spent their professional lives examining our manuscripts, deciding what the authors of the New Testament actually wrote. In other words, someone has gone to the trouble of doing textual criticism, reconstructing the “original” text based on the wide array of manuscripts that differ from one another in thousands of places. Then someone else has taken that reconstructed Greek text, in which textual decisions have been made (what was the original form of Mark 1:2? of Matt. 24:36? of John 1:18? of Luke 22:43-44? and so on), and translated it into English. What you read is that English translation—and not just you, but millions of people like you. How do these millions of people know what is in the New Testament? They “know” because scholars with unknown names, identities, backgrounds, qualifications, predilections, theologies, and personal opinions have told them what is in the New Testament. But what if the translators have translated the wrong text?  (pp. 208-9.)

In short, he expects his readers to be scandalized by the fact that education is necessary. In matters of religion, this seems inadmissible to him, because it implies an inequality of knowledge. It means that some people will have a more perfect knowledge of certain details of the original text, and that no one’s knowledge will be indisputably perfect. We might wonder where Ehrman ever got the impression that Christianity requires everyone to get a perfect knowledge of Scripture, and to get it without the guidance of teachers. Perhaps the idea was prompted by extravagant attitudes displayed by certain people at the Moody Bible Institute.

There is an element of truth in Ehrman’s account which must be admitted. I mean in the account he gives of how he, as a newcomer to these studies, was disturbed by the sight of all the variants, and saw them as a threat to any faith in the existence of an inspired and reliable text. This is a common reaction among earnest young students who are first coming to the subject, especially those who have not yet acquired proficiency in the language. But the attitude here described is not at all typical of those who have gained an adequate knowledge of Greek, have familiarized themselves with the manuscripts, and have studied much of the literature of text-critical scholarship. Those who are educated in these matters do not typically end up wringing their hands and despairing over the data. They can see for themselves how trivial nearly all the variants are, and how to evaluate the ones that make a difference. Most of the men who have risen to prominence in this field, men of real learning and ability, have been firm believers in the inspiration of the Bible. In the nineteenth century no one could claim to know the subject better than Tischendorf, Tregelles, and Westcott. But these men were believers. They did not share Ehrman’s view. Bruce Metzger, to whom Ehrman dedicates this book, was one of the more conservative scholars at Princeton while Ehrman was a student there, and he did not share Ehrman’s views. And we have good reason to think that Ehrman himself does not believe that the original text is unknowable, because he is surely one of the most opinionated scholars now living. He rarely expresses any uncertainty about the original reading of any text that he brings under discussion. He evidently believes that he knows what the original text said, with few exceptions, even where other scholars strongly disagree with him. The real problem is, he does not accept the truth of the words that he knows to be authentic. His failure to believe them has really nothing to do with any uncertainty about the original words.

No one who has really studied the history of biblical interpretation in any detail will be much impressed with the differences of interpretation that depend upon textual variants. These are all quite trivial in comparison to the differences of interpretation that arise from various interpretations of identical texts. Even where the same version is used as the basis of teaching, we see some very different interpretations. For three hundred years almost everyone in the English-speaking world used the King James Version, and yet during that time there was an enormous proliferation of sects, each of them led by teachers who found their distinctive doctrines in the King James Version. It was used by Episcopalians, Calvinists, Arminians, Campbellites, and Mormons. In England and America even the Jews used the King James Version of the Old Testament during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. And today, the differences one finds between English versions of the New Testament are usually much more significant than any differences between the Greek manuscripts in the same place. As one who has studied Greek, and has acquired the ability to read the Greek New Testament, I can assure my readers that it is a great relief to be delivered from the confusion of modern English versions, and that nothing like this confusion of English versions is produced by the information given in the text-critical apparatus of the Nestle-Aland edition. The number of variants that are both viable and meaningful enough to cause any serious difficulty for a competent interpreter is certainly not in the “thousands,” as Ehrman would have his readers think. I would say they amount to less than a hundred. And not one of them is half as interesting as many possibilities of interpretation that have nothing to do with verbal variations of the manuscripts.

Bart Ehrman has grossly exaggerated the importance of his own opinions, and of his own field of study. The Church does require the help of men who are learned in these matters, and, as part of the ministry of the Word, God himself calls certain gifted men to this work. But the mere existence of the various readings has no such embarrassing implications for the traditional Christian doctrine of inspiration as Ehrman alleges. His argument to this effect is contrived as an excuse for despising God’s words, after he lost his faith in God for other reasons.


What is the Earliest Complete List of the Canon of the New Testament?

With utmost confidence we see that God superintended the preservation of His record through the Apostles what we have today: The New Testament. Even shortly after Paul and other apostles wrote their epistles, the letters were recognized as the word of God: I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles (2Peter 3.2, see also 3.15-16).

Here is a post about lists of the canon. Even if we don’t have a list from the 1st century, only apostolic writers were ever considered authoritative which agrees with Jesus’ statement of the Spirit’s ministry: When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me, and you also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15.26-7)


Source: What is the Earliest Complete List of the Canon of the New Testament?

Weekly Communion: Some Church History

Individual Christian participation today in assembly comprises mostly singing. This was not originally the case. Instead individual expression of faith was “in remembrance” as portrayed in The Lord’s Supper. If it is “a remembrance” then we can conclude this is not an actual sacrifice. Instead, just as the O.T. sacrifices never took away sins (Heb.10.4) so we ‘testify’ that Christ’s sacrifice is our hope. Taking part in the LS then is like a ‘confession’ since we “proclaim Christ’s death until He returns” (1Cor. 11.26). Though this observance can be a witness to non-Christians who observe, primarily this ‘individualized stance’ when we participate functions as an encouragement to other Christians.

Here is some history of the practice from the early years after it was instituted. This seems to continue the original practice: “they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, the breaking of bread (LS), fellowship, and prayer” (Acts 2.42).

Source: Weekly Communion: Some Church History

Titles of Psalms (4)

A tantalizing thought is brought up in this post: the personal use of the Psalms as indicated from the superscription.

We know that the tribe of Levi was scattered in many different cities in the territories of the other 11 tribes and was commissioned to instruct the ‘everyday people.’ Dt. 33.10: They shall teach Jacob your rules and Israel your law. 2Chron. 35.3:  And he said to the Levites who taught all Israel and who were holy to the Lord. Neh.8.7b-8: the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. 

This was vastly different it seems from the wise men of Babylon and the Egyptian Scribes who were more centralized and served the ruler. Israel was unique in the ancient world in having more ‘everyday people’ know the Bible. To teach the people The Law the Levites needed copies of it and so scribes meticulously copied and preserved it.

Jesus’ appeal to sections in The Psalms indicates that these texts was well-known and therefore points to literate bible readers or hearers who may have used these superscriptions and postscripts in specific or recurring readings.


Source: Titles of Psalms (4)

Titles of Psalms (2)

Part two of Stephen Cook’s analysis of Hebrew superscripts and postscripts. It should be noted that none of the ‘outcomes’ of these analyses materially changes any fundamental doctrine, instead it exposes in part the process of translating and interpreting the text. Also, how the text came to future generations is fascinating.

A significant problem confronting Christians today is reading the bible anachronistically as somehow it was written to us. It was certainly written for us in a sense and being able to distinguish relevant portions in application constitutes much of our task in “trying to find out what pleases the Lord” (Eph. 5.10).

source: Titles of Psalms (2)

The Generic Use of “Adam”: Humanity

In the early chapters of the book of Genesis it uses “Adam” to refer to ‘humanity’: When humankind [Adam] began to multiply on the face of the earth (NET Gen. 6.1). This then is what people are: Adamites. Acts 17.26 records Paul address to Greek philosophers at Athens where he claims this same idea of the unity of all people: and he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth (ESV).

Sometimes a person will say they never asked to be born or that they had nothing to do with Adam’s sin, and that God should deal with them apart from other’s failures (Adam’s). But this is not the case in point. The bible teaches that we participated with Adam in the fall in Rom. 5.12: So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned. The verb “sinned” is aorist in the Koine Greek indicating point-in-time action. So all of humanity at the same time participated with Adam in his fall. A similar concept is found in Heb. 7.9-10:   And it could be said that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid a tithe through Abraham. For he was still in his ancestor Abraham’s body when Melchizedek met him. The writer of Hebrews affirms action of Levi before he was born: paying tithes! This is how we are to count our situation now since the bible clearly presents humanities’ predicament as prior action while either genetically participating, or as the ancestor (Adam) as representative for the whole. In theology this study is called the Headship of Adam with the two major views: natural (genetic) and Federal (representative).

My view is that the sin was actual and not representative. To me this takes Rom. 5.12 normally which mentions nothing of putting forth a representative but attributes the fall to everyone. This view is also harmonious with the concept of Levi paying tithes before he was born. The remedy of course is the second and last “Adam” (Jesus):  So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living person”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, made of dust; the second man is from heaven. Like the one made of dust, so too are those made of dust, and like the one from heaven, so too those who are heavenly. And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, let us also bear the image of the man of heaven (NET 1 Cor. 15.45-49).

Will the Return of Jesus be “Soon” or “Sudden”?

The last chapter of Revelation records Jesus saying three times that His return will be with “quickness” (tachu). This is the best translation of this Greek word to English. The angel also says those things revealed to John and Jesus’ servants will happen “quickly” (vs.6). The angel uses the same stem of the Greek word: takei.

The Greek word tachu is used only 12 times in the New Testament and every time the best rendering to English is “quickly” or “suddenly.” The English word tachometer indicates an instrument measuring speed and is derived from this Greek term. So the three repeated statements in the last chapter of the bible is telling us the nature of His return: it will be speedily when He does return. The second advent will be sudden and not gradual.

The disciples asked the resurrected Christ when He will restore The Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1.7). Jesus clearly told them that the timing was not theirs to know but was solely the prerogative of the Father. So, the Patmos vision given to John in Rev. 22 did not change this mystery. It is still the Father’s prerogative to set the duration of the age. Jesus will return the second time to save His people and he will do it suddenly and without delay when the time is right. He was not telling John that the return will happen shortly time-wise.

So those who mock the bible and think Jesus promised to return “soon” and now a long time has passed, they think he was wrong, mock in ignorance. Jesus, as clear as possible, said His return would be suddenly and dramatic (and universal from other statements). Yes, many early Christians thought Jesus would return in their lifetimes but they were mistaken more probably from enthusiasm than what the text said.

Counting the Cost

Dr. Cone exposes the duplicity of the argument that ‘the end justifies the means’ in the abortion debate. Using the analogy of the benefits Hitler provided Germany is correct and insightful.

During the fiscal years of 2009-2014 alone, Planned Parenthood performed 1,650,024 abortions.[1] In the same five years, Planned Parenthood provided more than twice as many breast exams (3,254,136)[2] as abortions – along with a host of other services related especially to women’s health. From their website, Planned Parenthood claims to be “one of the nation’s leading providers of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, and the nation’s largest provider of sex education.” The group also claims that only “Three percent of all Planned Parenthood health services are abortion services.”[3]   Even if one disagrees with how some of the non-abortion services are structured (as I do), it is inarguable that there are people who are benefitting from some services Planned Parenthood provides. The recent efforts of undercover videographers raise questions regarding whether or not young human beings are being carved up – even while alive – so that their various parts can be harvested for research. That research will presumably benefit many, but at what cost? Are we willing to look past some benefits to see atrocities for what they are?   It is well documented that Hitler greatly reduced unemployment in Germany in the early 1930’s. Though his methods were highly problematic, he benefitted many in Germany, and in large part that benefit he provided was the credibility seedling he needed in order to garner the nearly monolithic public support he had built by the time he plunged Germany into war. Yet history largely remembers Hitler for his atrocities, not for any beneficial policies he might have had (perhaps in large part because even those beneficial policies were grounded on atrocities themselves). At that time, the general populace was not willing to look past the benefits to see the atrocities.   Why are we humans so susceptible to the placation of our consciences through small benefits?   Planned Parenthood cites “real expert” R. Alta Charo, as saying “By using the public’s unfamiliarity with the history and realities of fetal tissue research as a back door for attacking Planned Parenthood, abortion opponents have added millions of people to the collateral damage of the abortion wars. This attack represents a betrayal of the people whose lives could be saved by the research and a violation of that most fundamental duty of medicine and health policy, the duty of care.”[4]   Charo suggests that the public’s unfamiliarity with the process of how fetal tissue research is gathered is being used against Planned Parenthood. Essentially it is an admission that the public is not yet calloused to those methods because those methods are new to public view. It is not lost on this reader that Charo’s comment acknowledges a concern for the wellbeing of some human life, but assumes a willingness to destroy other human lives with cold disregard in order to achieve that. How can “the duty of care” for some be engaged over the corpses of others who are being sacrificed in the name of that same care? This distorted view of the value of life is subjective based on the perspective of the valuer, and does not evidence any recognition that individual human lives have value.   Planned Parenthood also highlights in bold Charo’s comment that “Virtually every person in this country has benefited from research using fetal tissue.” Even if the claim were true, the implication is that the end justifies the means. Charo’s is an outcome based, utilitarian argument. That sort of subjective ethic would gladly sacrifice you if such a sacrifice contributed to the greater good. In this system, individual human life has no quantifiably objective value.   And that is the deep-seated problem that undergirds and facilitates the atrocities of abortion and Planned Parenthood’s (in these apparent cases) associated callousness regarding the way those abortions are conducted and how the bodies of these young humans are apparently being handled: as a society we fail to recognize why every life matters.   What Makes Human Life Special?   An organism exists at conception that did not exist before conception. In the case of human conception, at the point of conception, that organism has human DNA. Further, with natural, proper nurture, that organism will be born, and continue to develop after its birth into a biologically (at least) mature human being.   Even in the exceptional cases of monozygotic twins and tetragametic chimera (from a chimeric embryo), the organism(s) that immediately result from the conception process are distinctly human. One might argue that at the moment of conception there is no guarantee how many human lives have actually begun, but it is clear that human life has indeed begun. This is not mere potential for human life – it is by definition, fully human, and it is life.   But why does the distinctness of this new organism’s DNA, for example, grant this new living thing unique moral status? If, after all, a sperm and an egg are living things on their own, then why do they not each separately have their own protected status? In short, what makes fully human life so special, even if it is not yet fully developed with all the features it will have when mature?   That a child is not as fully developed as an adult does not make the child any less human. Even if one argues that life’s beginning is not associated directly with conception, such a one cannot look at the corpses of the slain “fetus” without awareness that what was distinctly human and alive is now broken and lifeless. Still, ultimately the primary question we have to resolve is not what particular stage of development must be achieved before the organism can be considered human, but rather what makes human life special at all.   The Bible answers the question directly. Humanity was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:17-29), and as a part of an ongoing covenant with every living thing on earth (Genesis 9:9-10), God demands that human life be treated with respect by all because He created them in His image and for a specific purpose (Genesis 9:5-7). All human life has value to Him, and as the Creator, He is the Ultimate Valuer, having the authority to make such value assessments and claims.   If we acknowledge the legitimacy of our Creator, we must acknowledge the legitimacy of His value claims. If God is the Creator of humanity, then the value of individual life is not arbitrary, but rather is determined by His purposes and revealed by His declarations. If we disregard Him, then we are – as Romans 1:18 and following verses describe – suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. That path is a dark one for human life, resulting in dishonor and lack of dignity (Romans 1:24-32). It is no surprise that such an outcome would result, but it is truly tragic.   The Bible’s clear presentation of the basis for the dignity of every individual human life begs us all to examine our own worldviews, to consider, upon what basis – if at all – should we value individual human life. How we answer that question will go a long way in determining how we understand and respond to the heartbreaking scenarios playing out before us with regard to abortion and the research being done with slain babies’ corpses. – See more at: http://www.drcone.com/2015/09/03/planned-parenthood-issues-symptomatic-of-deep-seated-problem/#sthash.Hm7LMds2.dpuf

The Inherent Weakness of Reformed Theology

Christopher Cone is incisive in his critique of Reformed Thought. Cone has earned three doctorates and is a great communicator. While I do not hold to his Dispensationalism, I do affirm Pre-Millenialism which was held by the Primitive Church. I, along with Cone, hold that authority is found in the Bible alone instead of the church development (“historic theology” in the article) of the Reformation and Roman Catholic Church of which Reformed Theology wants to find connection. God does build His Church but this is apart of any organizational or institutional inputs. Here I refer to the statement of Jesus in Mt. 16.17b-18a: “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven!  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” The antecedent to “rock” is the revelation from the Father which Peter received and not Peter himself.

The Roman Catholic position on this verse is that there is a word play in the Aramaic that Jesus was speaking. They claim that Peter (petros) becomes the rock (Petra), and so a human institutionalism is created, with the church built on Peter (and his successors). So the Roman Church says that grace is dispensed from their institution instead of the risen Christ of which the scriptures affirm. This is an argument from silence as the text, which is inspired (see 2Tim.3.16, 2Pet.1.21) was recorded in Koine Greek. No, the entire scriptures affirm salvation is from God alone now mediated by Christ alone and apart from any institutional agency. Reformed Theology want to merely reform Roman Catholicism instead of finding authority solely in God and His word.

Two Deficiencies of Reformed Epistemology:  A Brief Commendation and Critique of Cornelius Van Til’s Epistemology

Here is why I argue that reformed epistemology isn’t sufficient on its own, and that dispensational epistemology must be distinct from it:Cornelius Van Til is brilliant on what I would call the first three pillars of Biblical epistemology (#1: Biblical God exists, #2: He has revealed himself authoritatively, #3: Natural man’s incapacity to receive), but his epistemology falls short in that he does not account for hermeneutics (Pillar #4) within his epistemology. In fact, in his Th.M thesis, “Reformed Epistemology,” he never once even discusses Biblical interpretation. Much of his critique of other thinkers, like Kant, includes considerable discussion of their deficiencies in the interpretation of experience, but not a word about interpretation of Scripture. Not one. How can Van Til build such an outstanding foundational framework on special revelation and then totally ignore the centrality of hermeneutic method for understanding that revelation?

VanTil-teachingYou see, it all has to do with where one places hermeneutics: I consider Biblical hermeneutics as an absolutely necessary component of epistemology. Hermeneutics falls within the realm of epistemology. Van Til does not seem to share that conviction, even though he critiques the hermeneutics of others’ bases of authority (i.e., experience) within an epistemological context.

Still, while not considering hermeneutics an integral part of epistemology, he does give hermeneutics attention elsewhere. In his The New Hermeneutic, for example, Van Til concludes, with these words, “…we would appeal to the Cahier’s men, to Wiersinga and to others, to build their hermeneutical procedures on the theology of Calvin, Kuyper, Bavinck, etc., (emphasis mine) and then in terms of it to challenge all men to repentance and faith in the self-identifying Christ of Scripture instead of making compromise with unbelief” (pp. 180). Notice his prescribed hermeneutical procedures are grounded in historical theology, rather than literal grammatical-historical. In short, Van Til is marvelously consistent in his epistemological method until he arrives at the hermeneutic component. At that point his writing shows, in my estimation, two deficiencies: (1) he does not grant hermeneutics its proper and necessary place in epistemology, and (2) when he does consider hermeneutics, he prescribes historical theology as the orthodox hermeneutic, rather than literal grammatical-historical – an unfortunate contradiction of his own expertly stated first principles.

The Biblical epistemological model does not share these two deficiencies, and leads me to consider that while Van Til is outstanding up to a point, we cannot simply adopt his reformed epistemology without ourselves walking more consistently down the reformed path.

– See more at: http://www.drcone.com/2014/04/28/two-deficiencies-of-reformed-epistemology-a-brief-commendation-and-critique-of-cornelius-van-tils-epistemology/#sthash.YIeJEveN.dpuf

Contra Universalism (All Will Eventually Go to Heaven)

Here is an article by Dr. C. Cone which explains clearly the lie of Satan with the resultant death of all humanity in Adam. Jesus described Satan in this same way in John 8.44b: 

He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies.

While it is important to speak against the error of Universalism, another error is found oppositely in Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) of the wicked. In another post I will further expand the bible’s teaching on Conditional Immortality, or Conditionalism. This is the view of Edward Fudge in The Fire that Consumes.

The doctrine (ECT of the wicked) by its nature, has been neglected by theologians probably because the theologians themselves were not stakeholders of this judgment, and so, left it to philosophical ideas instead of biblical truth. Unfortunately, many doctrinal statements affirm ECT and with theologians having to toe institutional lines, cannot disclose their true stance for fear of their livelihood. I say this because from reading the exegesis and exposition these theologians affirm that immortality is something that was promised and not inherent in the human condition (see 2Tim. 1.10). Also, in 1Tim. 6.16 Paul gives his amen to that only God is immortal: He alone possesses immortality and lives in unapproachable light, whom no human has ever seen or is able to see. To him be honor and eternal power! Amen.

The wicked will be punished commensurate with their sin in hell and then be no more, this is the second death. Let us now consider Dr. Cone against Universalism:

Hell No?

Satan’s encounter with Eve in the Garden is fascinating and very important for us to understand. His temptation of Eve, recorded in Genesis 3, represents several firsts:


It is the first instance of an epistemological alternative to God’s design. Satan offers to Eve a different way to have God-like knowledge. Satan argues that God is actually deceiving Eve into ignorance by keeping her from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan’s plan was both clear and appealing: Be like God by the assertion of your own will, and be free from God’s restrictive design. Declare your independence from God by doing it your own way – the result will be the same.

Satan’s temptation of Eve is also the first instance of a hermeneutic alternative to God’s design. Satan’s temptation of Eve was the first recorded instance of a non-literal interpretation of God’s word. Satan asks Eve, “Has God said…?” and then proceeds to distort what God had actually said (3:1). In contrast, Genesis 1-12 represents roughly 2,500 years of history, and during that time, of the roughly 31 references to God speaking, this is the only instance (besides Eve’s fumbling in response to Satan’s challenge) in which God’s word isn’t taken at face value.

These two firsts are hugely significant for how we think, how we know, and how we understand God’s word. But there is another important first: the dialogue between Satan and Eve represents the first denial of God’s judgment. In Genesis 2:17 God had warned Adam that if he ate the fruit from this particular tree (all the rest were permissible, but Adam was not allowed to eat from this one) in that day (Heb., b’yom) he would die. Well, we know the rest of the story: Adam and Eve ate, and Adam lived to be 930 years old before he died (Gen 5:5). Did God mean what he said, or was Satan actually right? According to Paul in Romans 5:12, through Adam death spread to all (Gr. pantes) men – even those who are still alive and have not yet experienced physical death. The death promised in Genesis 2:17 was not physical death – that was promised in Genesis 3:19 (“…to dust you shall return”). The death God promised Adam is the same death Paul described in Romans 5. The condition of that “spiritual death” is that we were enemies of God (5:10) who were condemned (5:18).

Satan simply and straightforwardly denies what God had promised: “You shall surely not die” (Gen 3:4), Satan said. But what happened? Romans 5 explains that all died “spiritually” (meaning they became enemies of God and were condemned), and Adam and Eve did indeed die physically, as God directly intervened to ensure that fate (Gen 3:22-24).

Through the years there have been echoes of Satan’s denial of God’s judgment – most recently by men such as Henry Emerson Fosdick and Rob Bell. These men deny God’s right to judge through the consequences of hell, because it is outside of their expectations for God’s character. The essential premise of these contemporary denials is simply that a “good” God could not possibly condemn a person forever. But we find many examples in Scripture where God makes judgments that just don’t generally match what we might tend to do. So we have a choice. We can argue that God must fit our own moral sentiments, or we can take Him at His word, and discover who He describes Himself to be.

Before presupposing (based on sentiment) that God shouldn’t have a hell, perhaps it would be better to avoid the Satanic temptation to deny God’s prerogative and promise to judge. God did promise death. Not only that, but He promised a second death – the lake of fire (Rev 20:14-15, Gr. limne tou puros). This concept was first discussed in the final verse of Isaiah (66:24), and was later reiterated by Christ Himself in Mark 9:47-48 (where the Gr. gehenna is used).

Satan’s epistemology was a lie. The knowledge Eve gained by following it brought only death. Satan’s hermeneutic maneuver was a lie. It didn’t bring clarity to God’s word, instead it brought deception and confusion. Likewise, Satan’s prescribed personal eschatology – his claim about Eve’s future ­– was also a lie, and was disproven directly by God’s own actions. Satan’s lies are just as destructive today as they were then.

Of course the Biblical teaching of hell, death, judgment, and condemnation are awfully distasteful if we misunderstand God’s sovereign rights as the Creator – when we so disregard His holiness that we feel He has no right to make demands of that which He has created. But let’s look at things from God’s point of view (i.e., the view He revealed in Scripture) and we draw a different conclusion – a conclusion, by the way, He never asks us to like, but one He demands we understand.

In so doing, we can understand the great power of His grace, His love, His compassion. As Jesus said, “…he who is forgiven little loves little.” We need to realize of what great offenses we have been forgiven, and the kind of love with which we ought to respond, and what is really at stake in our lives and the lives of others.

– See more at: http://www.drcone.com/2014/10/30/hell-no/#sthash.9zsk4mrg.dpuf

Ken Penner on the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Alex the Less:

This interview illumines many issues in biblical linguistics. I hope many will be helped from reading and studying this discussion.

Originally posted on With Meagre Powers:

Ken Penner talks about his recent research on Qumranic Hebrew—that very specific type of Hebrew that sits between the various styles of Biblical Hebrew and later Mishnaic Hebrew. This is one for the die hard Hebrew nerds.

The full interview can be found here:

Brian W. Davidson Interviews Ken Penner on the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls — CACS.

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Disturb us Lord

Alex the Less:

great find by Walter Bright:

Originally posted on Refining theological understanding. Sharpening ethical rigor. Heightening devotional intensity.:

Disturb us, Lord, when We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love

Prayer by Sir Francis Drake

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Considering Adam, by Hans Madueme


Death of God by Poison

“Adam, where art thou?” The Lord’s rhetorical question in Eden is now the intense cry of incredulous Christians in a post-Darwinian world. Influential evangelicals are urging the church to jettison the doctrine of an original couple who fell into sin. Most believers in the world today would find this fact astonishing; they would never think to question that sin’s origin with Adam lies at the foundation of the entire biblical story (Gen 2-3). If you pressed them for scriptural support, they might invoke Adam’s integral role in the genealogies ofGen 1-11 and Luke 3:23-38, and in a biblical theology of marriage (Matt 19:1-11;Mark 10:1-9; 1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:31); his existence is declared or implied throughout the canon (see Jack Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?[Crossway, 2011]). Without a historical Adam, most would think, we cannot make sense of original sin or the origin of evil, nor did any of the major branches of Christendom ever doubt the existence of Adam and Eve. That’s all just for starters.

But, for many, that Adamic edifice is collapsing. Two key reasons deserve mention. The first reason is scriptural interpretation, i.e., hermeneutics. Biblical scholars have experienced an explosion of growth in their understanding of the ancient Near Eastern contexts of the Old Testament; in turn that has led them to reinterpret the early chapters of Genesis (and other passages). The historical significance of Adam, as a result, is either radically diminished or entirely rejected. In denying Adam’s role in history, these scholars often make the distinction between biblical authority and hermeneutics: “We don’t deny the Bible’s reliability; we simply disagree with your interpretation of Gen 1-3, Rom 5, etc.” Properly understood, they insist, God’s Word no longer commits us to a historical Adam.

The second reason is the evidence from the natural sciences. For example, mainstream accounts from disciplines like paleoanthropology, evolutionary biology, and population genetics leave no room for an original couple. People are thus left asking, is this our “Copernican” moment? If we keep defending Adam, don’t we risk becoming like the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th century, digging in our heels and insisting that the Bible—interpreted through a particular lens—trumps all scientific theories? Many evangelicals are saying yes; in light of what scientists are reporting, we must recast biblical Adam in mythical terms. Serious Christians take science seriously; good science is an examination of general revelation, a gift of God’s common grace. We can’t be ostriches, they warn, burying our heads in the sand whenever the scientific facts rule against us.

I’m not convinced by either reason, and here’s why. Regarding the hermeneutical point, on one level, yes—a rousing Amen!—Protestants committed to sola scriptura insist on separating Scripture’s inerrancy from our interpretation of it. But we should tread carefully, because this valid Reformation insight can become a truism, a shibboleth, especially in the science-theology dialogue. I don’t know anyone who denies it. My problem is not with the principle of distinguishing the inerrant Scriptures from our fallible interpretations, except to note that using it rhetorically often begs the question, i.e., assumes the truth of what is precisely in question. Obviously, if you agree with scientists that a historical Adam is impossible, then devising fresh hermeneutical strategies to resolve the tension with Scripture is a logical move. In fact, however, the Bible does very clearly depict a historical Adam; such revisionist exegesis goes against the grain of the text, driven by scientific prejudgments that set epistemic limits on what the Bible can say. That’s a mistake; Scripture unshackled—not science—is the self-authenticating authority.

Turning to the scientific “facts,” let me call into question any commitment to methodological naturalism, the notion that we can only appeal to naturalphenomena when doing genuine science. Methodological naturalism is the status quo among scientists and enshrined in the scientific perspectives that conflict with the Adamic events of Scripture. Theologically speaking, methodological naturalism strikes me as deeply problematic. To use Alvin Plantinga’s language, it yields a truncated science; it does not appeal to the full evidence base—an evidence base that, I would argue, includes divine revelation and all the glorious realities to which it attests. Once we reject methodological naturalism, we will have a truer and richer appraisal of the biblical witness and the world it signifies. An appropriately expanded understanding of biblical reality includes Adam’s historicity and its vital theological implications; for those of us who find those implications compelling, any scientific opinion that rules out Adam will fail to convince.

And there’s the rub. One side judges an original couple impossible by dint of the scientific testimony; my side judges their scientific claims impossible by dint of Adam’s theological significance. We can unpack this last point with reference to soteriology and the doctrine of God. The incarnation and redemption were necessitated by Adam’s ruinous disobedience of God (Rom 5:12, 16). Notice the redemptive-historical logic. Adam, through whom we became sinners, sinned in history; Jesus Christ, through whom we have justification, brought salvation in history. “The two truths or facts by which all of Christian dogmatics is governed,” remarked Herman Bavinck, “are (1) the fall of Adam and (2) the resurrection of Christ” (Reformed Dogmatics 3:38). The tapestry of salvation history extends between Adam and Christ; take away Adam and the whole thing unravels.

Our picture of God is also in jeopardy. Whatever verdict we make on Adam’s fall has a direct bearing on our theology of evil. Why are human lives riddled with sin that never ceases and with the agonies of pain, suffering, and death? What is the origin of evil? There are only three possible answers to this ancient question. The first is Dualism, the idea that evil is an eternal, godlike principle that has always existed alongside God (e.g., Zoroastrianism; Manichaeism). The second is Monism—good and evil are forces jostling within God himself; God becomes morally ambiguous, unholy, light and darkness springing from the very being of God. Without Adam’s fall, evil is part of the fabric of creation, and the holiness of God—the Creator—is thus poisoned, incurably.

The only answer left, an answer fraught with theological moment, is that in history evil ruptured God’s good creation; that evil was the rebellion of a historical Adam, an event wondrously rescinded by the atoning work of a historical Jesus. Current scientific orthodoxy may judge this position impossible, but it is the only possible position for theological orthodoxy.

Hans Madueme is an Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and previously served as the Managing Director of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has published numerous journal articles and reviews, and edited the 2014 book, Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin: Theological, Biblical, and Scientific Perspectives.

Confessional Baptists

John Mason’s Hymn is the main reason I reproduce Paul Helm’s post on Baptist Confession. It is good to distill beliefs into summary statements when they are composed with great care. Such is the example of John Mason’s Hymn and, if I may say, The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689.


In an earlier post we noted the Baptist Confessional tradition (at least since 1689) consciously using the language of the earlier theology, and of the early church. This is linked in a way that is surprising to some to a greater confessional awareness among some Baptists at the present time. Not just a confession but awareness of it. A confessional awareness that links those who subscribe to such confessions to the theology, specifically to the theism, of the early church. The verse of John Mason’s great hymn given above expresses (with not too much license) the character of this theism. If you haven’t yet learned to treasure a confession of faith then learn Mason’s hymn. It is given in full at the end of this piece.

Theism is what undergirds the character of the remainder of Christian doctrine. You might say, as the theism, so the doctrine. Ours is not an age of doctrine,  but of morality. What divides and unites people is not doctrine (‘doctrine divides’) but morality (‘morality divides’); social morality, social ethics, sex and gender, life  and death, and so on. But what grounds ethics? The Christian church has maintained that ethics is grounded in the character and will of Almighty God and our love of it. Does the doctrine of God matter? It certainly does, it sets forth the character and powers of God.


To some the phrase ‘without body, parts and passions’ appearing in a Christian confession, matters not. What’s in a phrase? Isn’t this just rhetoric? No. it isn’t. This phrase compresses a whole theology, in the narrow sense of a doctrine of God.  ‘The Phrase’, as I shall call it here, expresses the purest theism, the theism of catholic Christianity. Note this use of ‘catholic’. It is distinct from ‘Roman Catholic’. In Roman Catholic theology every one of its councils speak the RC faith, for all of them are regarded as consistent. And the Pontiff settles any differences. In ‘catholic’ theology, the first seven councils are embraced, the ecumenical councils, councils that met and pronounced prior to the division into the Eastern and Western Church. ‘Catholic’ in this sense means the universal church, what is generally believed. Judged by this standard the use of the phrase ‘Roman Catholic’ can be oxymoronic: ‘The universal church that at one and the same time recognizes the authority of the Bishop of Rome as its Pontiff’. ‘Catholic’ in what follows is used in the ecumenical sense, not in the Roman sense.

If someone stops to think about The Phrase, they might wonder at the rather strange grammar, a negative clause. It’s about what God is ‘without’. Not what God is, or even what God is like, but what he is not. If John is without his umbrella when the shower suddenly drenches, he is without shelter. The phrase is negative, it tells us what John is not carrying, that he is lacking shelter. Likewise with The Phrase. It tells  us what God is not, and by implication is not like. Such negative language is frequently used of God in Scripture: He is immortal, invisible, without beginning, endless, uncreated. Using such negative expressions emphasizes God’s apartness, his ‘otherness’ as theologians say. He is not like ourselves who are mortal, visible, born and die, creatures. He is in a class by himself. That is not to say that all our language about God is negative. He is almighty, eternal, pure, holy, loving, jealous, abounding in mercy. He is our Creator and our judge. All these are positive expressions, telling us what God is and is like. The use of such negative expressions has the intention of guarding our thinking, our tendency to be familiar with God, thinking we know what God is like, even the tendency we have to think we know what it is like to be God. God is apart from us, transcending our world of time and space.

The other thing that might strike us is the including of  ‘without…passions’. Why single out the exclusion of passions? Without a body and without parts seems to be more manageable. We know that God is pure spirit and does not have hands and feet, and thus does not have parts. That does not quite say it all, however. God is not only without bodily parts he is also without temporal parts. He does not have a yesterday or a tomorrow. As Isaac Watts put it.

Eternity, with all its years,
Stands present in Thy view;
To Thee there’s nothing old appears;
Great God! There’s nothing new.

There is no past for God, no future, no memory, no part of his life is over, nor any part to come. For he is without  parts.


Returning to this negative expression, ‘without…passions’, it tells us quite a bit that us positive about God when we reflect upon it. To start with it tells us that the life of God is ‘above’  the goings-on in our lives, or in the lives of any other creature. It is a way of saying that God is changeless, whereas we change. He is not caused to change by his creation. Rather, besides creating and sustaining it,  he is the decreer of changes in his creation, including the changes that his creatures bring about. God decrees such changes and in that sense he brings them about or permits them. But that fact does not allow us to say that God does not care for his creatures, nor grants his grace to men and women. Care, grace, judgment, mercy are expressions of the fullness of God to us creatures, and (again) have to do with our changes, not with his. When we come to recognize that God loves  in Christ, and fills his people with joy and peace in believing, this is a change, and it leads to further changes in them. It was God’s eternal decree that this be so. If human lives descend into indifference to God, or blasphemous rebellion, these are other changes, different responses, different changes to the one unchanging God. Such changes have effects on our passions, or affections, but not on God’s.

A God without passions is not an uncaring God, or unconcerned, in a state of psychotic withdrawal. Nor he is a deistic God. On the contrary he is rich in mercy, abounding in goodness and truth. He will by no means clear the guilty. He will judge the living and the dead, according to his steady will.  So he is not fitful, given over to the onset of moods and spasms, irritable, impatient, quick-tempered, or languid, or indolent.

It is this side of things that is being chipped away by those who wish nonetheless to be thought of as ‘conservative evangelical’, not to speak of those with an altogether more ‘dynamic’ or ‘theo-dramatic’ approach to theology. Chipped away in the interests of presenting a God who is more accessible to us all.

The relation between the Creator and his creatures is an unequal one. Yes, an unequal one. He made us and not we ourselves. We are creatures of his hand, he is not a creature of our hands. Of course not, some may say. But neither is God our buddy, nor are we his buddies, though Christ tells us that his disciples are his friends, his children. We may want a God who is our buddy but that is not the God we have.


The loss of The Phrase from our consciousness is both the cause and the effect of profound changes in us. For our first and last thought should be that we are in the hands of eternal God. If we discipline our thinking about God in these ways then the manic panic that affects so much modern theology begins to abate.

The fact that there are Baptists who wish to affirm their confessional position emphasises their willingness to stand with the early church, and of course with the Reformers, and those who are similarly confessionally-minded who followed, and who follow them. More on this next month.

John Mason (1646?–94) was a calvinistic minister in the Church of England, a poet and a pioneering, influential hymn-writer.

How shall I sing that Majesty?

How shall I sing that Majesty

which angels do admire?

Let dust in dust and silence lie;

sing, sing, ye heavenly choir.

thousands of thousands stand around

thy throne, O God most high;

ten thousand times ten thousand sound

thy praise; but who am I?

Thy brightness unto them appears,

whilst I thy footsteps trace;

a sound of God comes to my ears,

but they behold thy face.

I shall, I fear, be dark and cold,

with all my fire and light;

yet when thou dost accept their gold,

Lord, treasure up my mite.

Enlighten with faith’s light my heart,

inflame it with love’s fire;

then shall I sing and bear a part

with that celestial choir.

They sing because thou art their Sun;

Lord, send a beam on me;

for where heaven is but once begun

there alleluias be.

How great a being, Lord, is thine,

which doth all beings keep!

Thy knowledge is the only line

to sound so vast a deep.

thou art a sea without a shore,

a sun without a sphere;

thy time is now and evermore,

thy place is everywhere.

A Tree of Probation

Whether one holds to The Federal Headship of Adam (Adam as representative of  humanity) or Natural Headship (all humanity essentially participated) in The Fall, Romans 5.12 states: “We all sinned” in Adam’s choice of rejecting God’s warning of knowing evil.

God had made a world that was very good so Adam already knew goodness. He was also made in God’s image so was like Him. God knows evil as evil and is wholly apart from it. So, the lie of The Tempter accused God of withholding a certain knowledge from Adam (and thus mankind). That man didn’t have this knowledge was not to his detriment, quite the contrary. This is the knowledge that all humanity now possesses: inherent evil and the resultant temporal consequences (the final consequences are the “old man” being punished and destroyed).

Symbolically, in one sense, the cross of Christ may be thought of as a kind of “Tree of Life” in that this locates judgement upon a perfectly righteous substitute who conquered death on our behalf. The Resurrection signifies payment received so that life may be distributed to all who come to Jesus. Here are further thoughts on this “Probationary Tree”:


The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

Nicholas Batzig has a nice meditation on the trees in the Garden of Eden and the cross of Christ in his blog post A Biblical Theology of the Trees of the Garden.  Here are a few comments about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil:

This tree was a symbolic representation of what man could attain to, either by obedience or disobedience; it was a probation. Geerhardus Vos explained:
1. By this tree it would be made known and brought to light whether man would fall into the state of evil or would be confirmed in the state of immutable goodness.
2. By this tree man, who for the present knew evil only as an idea, could be led to the practical knowledge of evil. Or also because he, remaining unfallen, would still, by means of temptation overcome, gain clearer insight into the essence of evil as transgression of God’s law and disregard of His sovereign power, and likewise would attain the highest knowledge of immutable moral goodness.2
Vos explained elsewhere how Satan sought to pervert the meaning of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil when he wrote:
From the true conception of the purpose of the tree we must distinguish the interpretation placed upon it by the tempter according to Gen. 3.5. This carries a twofold implication: first that the tree has in itself, magically, the power of conferring knowledge of good and evil. This lowers the plane of the whole transaction from the religious and moral to the pagan-magical sphere. And secondly, Satan explains the prohibition from the motive of envy. … Again, the divine statement in Gen. 3.22 alludes to this deceitful representation of the tempter. It is ironical.3
Adam did indeed attain to the knowledge of good and evil, but, as Vos noted, he attained it from the standpoint of becoming evil and remembering the good in contrast to the evil he performed. He gained the experiential knowledge of good and evil from the evil side. If we make Genesis 1-3 our starting point, and then consider all the occasions in which man is called to make judgments (i.e. to decided between good and evil in each and every situation) we soon discover that he is always prone to choose the evil over the good in his natural state. When the LORD comes to assess Israel’s actions through the prophet Jeremiah this is what He concludes: ” For My people are foolish, they have not known Me. They are silly children, and they have no understanding. They are wise to do evil, But to do good they have no knowledge (Jeremiah 4:22). A little later on the Lord says of Israel, “‘they proceed from evil to evil, And they do not know Me,’ says the LORD.” It was knowledge of the LORD that was the knowledge of good that men lack. There are many similar verses in the prophets, in which the LORD brings the charge that men, including His people Israel, had not learned how to do good.

Perseverance of the Believer

Dr. Craig Keener surveys the nature of ‘persevering in the faith’ from the Bible and corrects several false notions. I consider his treatment of this subject accurate and balanced. It is certainly easy to lose focus on Christ and resort to ‘self effort’, or to the other extreme of ‘false confidence.’


There are different definitions of once-saved-always-saved, and in this post I am challenging only one version. The point is not to make Christians nervous about their salvation; biblical writers assure Christians who have been persevering that they will persevere (Phil 1:5-7; Heb 6:9-10). The point is to recognize that apostasy is possible and that it happens sometimes.

If you have been a Christian very long, you probably know some who started with you in the faith who have since fallen away. I have known many who were zealous colleagues who no longer even claim to be Christians; some, in fact, claim to be something else.

Calvinists and Arminians may disagree on whether a person was provisionally converted or not, but they both agree that only those who persevere to the end will be saved. A Calvinist would say that someone who falls away was not genuinely converted to begin with (cf. John 6:64; 1 John 2:19)—that is, from the standpoint of ultimate salvation, which God already knows. An Arminian would say that, from the standpoint of human experience, which is what we can know, the person was provisionally converted but fell away and thus was not ultimately saved. But both agree that a person who turns away from faith in Christ and never returns is not ultimately saved. Both of these perspectives have biblical support, one from the standpoint of God’s foreknowledge and the other from the standpoint of human experience.

But “once-saved-always-saved” as it is commonly taught in many churches is neither Calvinism nor Arminianism. Many teach a cheap version of “Once-saved-always-saved,” wherein anyone who professes conversion remains in Christ no matter what happens. Let us say they become an atheist theologically, an axe-murderer morally, or even simply a spiritual couch potato that hasn’t thought about God for years. Are they still counted as believers in Christ? (Because this contorted hope seems to flourish particularly in some Baptist churches, I should note, lest you think I am picking on Baptists, that I’m a Baptist minister myself, albeit a charismatic evangelical one.)

Various texts warn that a person will be saved only if they persevere. Christ has reconciled you to present you to God, Paul warns, “if you continue in the faith” (Col 1:23). God cut off unbelieving branches and grafted you in, but if you do not continue in his kindness, you too may be cut off (Rom 11:22). (Paul speaks here of individual Gentiles, not of Gentiles as a whole, since in the context he did not believe that every individual Jewish person had been cut off.) The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2—3 repeatedly offer promises to those who overcome, conditioning the reward on perseverance. One must hold onto what one has, lest someone else take one’s crown (Rev 3:11), presumably the crown of life (2:10); those believers who overcome will not be blotted out of the book of life (3:5).

Jesus warned some who “believed” in him that they would become his disciples and know the truth if they continued in his teaching (John 8:30-32); they did not do so (8:59). In John’s Gospel, saving faith is faith that perseveres, not the faith of a fleeting moment. Jesus warns his own disciples to continue in him; if someone did not do so, they would be cast away and ultimately burned (15:5). (Fire was a familiar Jewish image for Gehenna, used also elsewhere in the Gospels.)

A wide array of texts warn that a person will be lost if they do not persevere. Because Galatian Christians were trying to be made right with God by keeping the law, Paul warned that they had been cut off from Christ and had fallen from grace (Gal 5:4); Paul was laboring again until Christ would be formed in them again (4:19). Paul even disciplined himself to ensure that he did not fail the test (1 Cor 9:27), but warned the Corinthians to check themselves to see whether they were failing it (2 Cor 13:5). Some of these references could be hyperbolic, dramatic ways of warning his hearers that they were on the verge of losing something they had not yet lost (cf. perhaps 2 Cor 5:20; 6:1, 17-18). Nevertheless, they hold out the terrifying possibility of apostasy.

This is especially emphasized in Hebrews. Punishment for turning from the way of salvation now is harsher than under the law (Heb 2:1-4). Those who turned from God in Moses’s time never entered God’s rest; how much more would that be true for those now who, hardened by sin, stopped believing Jesus Christ (3:7-15; 4:1, 11)!

Hebrews 6 warns particularly explicitly that those once converted could fall away. Being “enlightened” (6:4) refers to conversion (10:32); “tasting” the heavenly gift and future era (6:4-5) refers to experiencing it (the same Greek term applies to Jesus experiencing death in 2:9); being made “partakers of” or “sharing in” the Spirit (6:4) also refers to genuine believers (cf. the same Greek term in 3:1, 14). But if this person “falls away” (6:6; the language appears in the Greek version of the Old Testament for turning from God, e.g., Ezek 18:24; cf. different wording in Mark 4:17), they cannot be repent anew because they are crucifying Jesus again and publicly shaming him; they will be burned (Heb 6:8).

Because Christ is the only true sacrifice for sins (10:1-21), those who sin by continuing to resist him have nothing left but terrifying judgment (10:26-31). Those who turn back from faith face destruction (10:39). One should not be like Esau, who had no second chance (12:16-17). If those who rejected God’s message at Sinai were judged (12:18-21), how much greater is the judgment for rejecting the new covenant (12:22-29).

Some of the warnings in Hebrews sound as if those who fall away cannot be restored; yet many of us know some people who did fall away and yet were restored. This is explained in various possible ways (e.g., that their previous conversion experience was incomplete or that their apostasy was incomplete), but it is also possible that Hebrews is simply warning that there is no other way of salvation. If we leave Christ looking for something beyond him, we will not find it. James 5:19-20 sounds as if turning back to the way of Christ someone who strayed from it brings that person back to salvation and forgiveness.

Hebrews repeatedly exhorts its audience to hold fast our confidence in Christ (Heb 3:6, 14; 4:14; 10:23); we must not abandon our confidence (10:35), which has the reward of eternal life (10:34-39). We have become Christ’s house, heirs of the future world, the author declares, if we continue to be believers in him (3:6, 14; 6:11-12); if we fail to persevere, we face judgment (2:2-3; 4:1; 8:9; 10:26, 38; 12:25).

To persevere in faith, we should continue to trust in Christ (Heb 3:19; 4:2; 10:35—11:1; on the topic of faith in Hebrews, see http://www.craigkeener.com/faith-the-assurance-of-things-hoped-for-%E2%80%94-hebrews-111/); support one another in the faith (3:13; 10:23-26); and grow more mature in biblical understanding (5:11—6:12). Similarly, 2 Peter advises various virtues that will keep one growing and prevent falling away and so missing the Lord’s eternal kingdom (2 Pet 1:5-11).

Many beliefs today are popular because they appeal to our weakness rather than because they are biblical. Such beliefs include spiritual justifications for materialism, theological exemptions from suffering tribulation, and even justifications for not sharing our faith with others. The idea that someone who professes conversion will share eternal life even if they do not persevere as believers in Christ is another belief that is comforting—and dangerously false.

For some people with less self-confidence (sometimes including myself), such warnings are unnerving. But biblical warnings are qualified for those who have already been demonstrating perseverance and the seriousness of their faith (Phil 1:6-7; Heb 6:9-10). (Still, even this assurance could be accompanied by exhortation to persevere, Heb 6:11-12.) It is important to remember that the keeping does not depend on us having infinite strength; it is God’s own power that preserves us through our faith (1 Pet 1:5), and no one can snatch us from his hand (John 10:29).

If overconfidence in ourselves is an error, so is underconfidence in the one who drew us to himself to begin with. Our baptism is meant as a helpful reminder that we passed from one realm to another; we do not pass away from Christ because some bad thought comes to our mind or we fail one spiritual test. The latter misconception is probably a recipe for spiritual obsessive compulsive anxiety! Falling away refers to someone who is no longer following Christ, not someone who is simply imperfect in our maturity or discipleship.

The warnings are instead for those tempted to fancy that we are saved by a single act of prayer or physical washing rather than by Christ, who treat salvation only as a cheap fire escape instead of rescue from being alienated from God. It is God’s act in his Son’s death and resurrection that saves us, provided that we accept his gift, i.e., believe this good news. His gift is eternal life in his presence, an eternal life that begins when we truly believe—welcoming a new life in Christ.

Contra Gnosticism

Here is Richard Klaus’ outline on the deficiency and error of Gnosticism:


Loving Truth and Resisting Error

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Gospel of Thomas: Lecture Notes

Here is the outline I used today in class to cover the Gospel of Thomas.

The Gospel of Thomas

  1. Nag Hammadi library
  1. Discovered in 1945
  1. Translated into English in 1977
  1. 13 leather bound books (codices)
  1. Manuscripts dated AD 350-380
  1. Written in Coptic (Egyptian written in the Greek alphabet)
  1. Oxyrhynchus
  1. Discovered in 1890’s
  1. Greek fragments: unknown at time of discovery what they were but with the discovery at Nag Hammadi it was realized that these Greek fragments were pieces of Thomas
  1. About 20% of Thomas in three papyri
  1. P. Oxy 654 = Thomas 1-7, part of 30
  1. P. Oxy 1 = Thomas 26-33

iii.     P. Oxy 655 = Thomas 24, 36-39, 77

  1. Manuscripts dated AD 200-300
  1. Two views on origins and translation
  1. Greek to Coptic
  1. Syriac to Greek; Syriac to Coptic
  1. Thomas and Gnosticism
  1. Not full-blown Gnosticism but definitely Gnostic elements[1]
  1. Definition of Gnosticism:
  1. Dualism: mixture of good and evil in creation and man; distinction between good transcendent unknowable God and God who created the world.“The knowable God who is a projection into the creation is the Creator, while the unknowable God is over everything but is too transcendent to be directly involved with the creation.  The true God and the Creator God of Genesis are not the same thing.”[2]
  1. Cosmogony: dualism in the creation itself; “anti-cosmic dualism” which rejects the physical material world as evil and inferior.[3]
  1. Soteriology: “Salvation and redemption are understood primarily in terms of knowledge about creation’s dualistic nature.Salvation of the nonmaterial spirit or soul within a person is what matters, not a salvation of the creation or of the flesh.  In fact, the flesh is not redeemable.  There is no resurrection of the body from the dead.”[4]
  1. Eschatology: “one understands where existence is headed, namely, the redemption of the soul and the recovery of the creation into the ‘fullness’ or ‘pleroma’ that is where good dwells.”[5]
  1. See especially verses 18, 29, 36-39, 50, 77, 83-84
  1. Thomas 1 and John 11.25-26
  1. Thomas 1: “And he said, ‘Whoever finds theinterpretation of these sayings will not taste death.’”
  1. John 11.25-26: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?’”
  1. “Now we can see how John’s message contrasts with that of Thomas.Thomas’s Jesus directs each disciple to discover the light within (‘within a person of light there is light’ [24]) but John’s Jesus declares instead that ‘I am the light of the world’ and that ‘whoever does not come to me walks in darkness’ [8.12].  In Thomas, Jesus reveals to the disciples that ‘you are from the kingdom, and to it you shall return’ and teaches them to say for themselves that ‘we come from the light’; but John’s Jesus speaks as the only one who comes ‘from above’ and so has rightful priority over everyone else: ‘You are from below; I am from above …. The one who comes from above is above all.’ [8.23; 3.31] Only Jesus is from God, and he alone offers access to God.  John never tires of repeating that one must believe in Jesus, follow Jesus, obey Jesus, and confess him alone as God’s onlyson.  We are not is ‘twin,’ much less (even potentially) his equal; we must follow him, believe in him, and revere him as God in person: thus John’s Jesus declares that ‘you will die in your sins, unless you believe that I am he’ [8.24].”[6]
  1. “At the same time, I was also exploring in my academic work the history of Christianity in the light of the Nag Hammadi discoveries, and this research helped clarify what I cannot love: the tendency to identify Christianity with a single, authorized set of beliefs—however these actually vary from church to church—coupled with the conviction that Christian belief alone offers access to God.”[7]
  1. Pagels is challenged spiritually by Thomas. For example, verse 70 reads: “Jesus said, ‘If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.’”  Pagels comments: “The strength of this saying is that it does not tell us what to believe but challenges us to discover what lies hidden within ourselves; and, with a shock of recognition, I realized that this perspective seemed to me self-evidently true.”[8]
  1. Contents of Thomas
  1. Missing Gospel elements in Thomas
  1. No narrative
  1. No passion/cross

iii.     No resurrection

  1. Non-eschatological (i.e., Thomas 18)
  1. No “Jewish-ness”: Jewish language and concepts are used but are give a different, non-Jewish understanding

“One of the most telling weaknesses in the whole Q-and-Thomas hypothesis, it seems to me, is the presence within Thomas of sayings about the ‘kingdom of god’, or, as the book regularly calls it, the kingdom of the Father [3, 22, 46, 49, 97, 113, 114].  From our earlier study of the Jewish evidence, it is unthinkable that this motif should be introduced into a community from scratch with the meaning that it comes to have inThomas, i.e. the present secret religious knowledge of a heavenly world.  It is overwhelmingly likely that the use of this emphatically Jewish kingdom-language originated with an overtly Jewish movement which used it in a sense close to it mainline one, i.e. which spoke of the end of exile, the restoration of Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple, the return of YHWH to Zion, and so forth, however much these ideas were transformed within the ministry of Jesus and the lives of his first followers.  If there has been a shift in the usage one way or the other, it is far more likely to have been from this Jewish home base into a quasi-Gnostic sense, rather than from a Gnostic sense, for which there is no known, or imaginable precedent, to a re-Judaized one—a shift which, on the hypothesis, must have taken place somewhere between an early Thomasand a later Mark.”[9]

  1. Thomas doesn’t fit “gospel” message or genre

“When the early Christians picked up the term ‘gospel’, they had in mind the good news of things Jesus had done, while also including some of his teachings.  For example, the earliest Gospel, Mark, is mostly action—focusing on Jesus’ deeds.  It is doubtful that the earliest Christians would have seen a mere collection of teachings, without a recounting of Jesus’ saving activities, as a Gospel… On this account it’s doubtful that we should see the Gospel of Thomas, mostly a collection of teachings, as a Gospel.”[10]

  1. Dating the Gospel of Thomas
  1. Two views
  1. Early: 50-60 (Jesus Seminar)
  1. Late: 150-185 (majority of scholars)
  1. Arguments for late date
  1. Thomas knows many of the NT writings
  1. Thomas contains material from the Gospels that many scholars regard as late (i.e., M, L, John)

iii.     Thomas reflects later editing in the Gospel

  1. Thomas shows familiarity with traditions distinctive to Easter, Syrian Christianity that emerged in the middle of the 2nd century (i.e., name Judas Thomas)

“The attribution of the Gospel to ‘Didymus Judas Thomas’ (prologue) shows that it derives from the East Syrian Christian tradition, centered in Edessa.  It was only in this tradition (from which come also the Book of Thomas and the Acts of Thomas) that the apostle was known as Judas Thomas and regarded as a kind of spiritual twin-brother of Jesus.  Thomas was thought (perhaps correctly) to have been in some sense responsible for the founding of the church in this area, and it is probable that the oral Gospel traditions of this church were transmitted under the name of Thomas and that the Gospel of Thomas drew on these oral traditions. Its points of contact with other literature from this area and especially its probable use by the Acts of Thomas(end of second or early third century) confirms this hypothesis.”[11]

  1. Arguments for early date
  1. Form is like Q (collection of sayings without narrative) which is early
  1. Sayings in Thomas are more simple than parallels in canonical Gospels

Example: parable of the wicked tenant farmers (Mt 21.33-41; Mk 12.1-9; Lk 20.9-16; Thomas65)

iii.     Sayings in Thomas do not follow the order in Synoptic Gospels

  1. Answering the arguments for an early date
  1. “Form is like Q.”
  1. Q is a hypothetical construct; no manuscript evidence
  1. Q could have contained a narrative—who knows? Speculation abounds.
  1. “Simple sayings = early sayings.”

“Advocates of Thomas’ independence of the canonical Gospels often point to the abbreviated form that many of the parables and sayings have in Thomas.  One of the best known examples is the parable of the wicked tenant farmers (Mt 21:33-41; Mk 12:1-9; Lk 20:9-16; Gospel of Thomas 65).  In the opening verse of Mark’s version approximately eleven words are drawn from Isaiah 5:1-7 to form the backdrop of the parable.  Most of these words do not appear in Thomas.  Crossan takes this as an indication that the older form of the parable has been preserved in Thomas, not in Mark, which supposedly preserves an expanded, secondary version.  However, in Luke’s opening verse only two words from Isaiah 5 (“planted vineyard”) remain.  We have here a clear example of abbreviation of the tradition.  Other scholars have concluded that the version in Thomas is an edited and abridged form of Luke’s version of the parable.  The same possibility applies to the saying about the rejected stone (Mt 21:42; Mk 12:10-11; Lk 20:17; Gospel of Thomas 66).  Mark’s longer version quotes Psalm 118:22-23.  But Luke only quotes Psalm 118:22.  Once again Luke, who depends on Mark and is further removed from the original form of the tradition, has abbreviated the tradition.  The shorter form also appears in Thomas.  Thus, it is risky to draw firm conclusions relating to priority on the basis of which form of the tradition is the shortest and appears abbreviated.  It is thus possible that Gospel of Thomas 65 and 66 are neither separate logia nor derived from pre-Synoptic tradition, but constitute an edited version of Luke’s abbreviation of Mark’s parable.”[12]

  1. “Sayings in Thomas are not in the same order as Synoptic Gospels.”
  1. Gnostic writers of the 2nd century customarily arranged material around themes/catchwords
  1. We know of one place for certain where the Coptic writer changed the order from the “older” Greek version (P. Oxy 1) to organize it around catchwords.
  1. The saying on “splitting the wood” which in P. Oxy 1 is at the end of saying 30 becomes part of the 2nd half of saying 77 in the Coptic version.
  1. This creates a link-word between 77a+b; both halves of the spliced verse contain the Coptic verb meaning “attain” or “split”[13]

     [1] Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospel (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2006), 66-67.

     [2] Darrell L. Bock, The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianites (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2006, 19.

     [3] Bock, The Missing Gospels, 19.

     [4] Bock, The Missing Gospels, 19.

     [5] Bock, The Missing Gospels, 19.

     [6] Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (New York: Vintage, 2003), 68-69.

     [7] Pagels, Beyond Belief, 29.

     [8] Pagels, Beyond Belief, 32.

     [9] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1992), 440-441—boldface added.

     [10] Ben Witherington III, The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2004), 97.  Also see Simon Gathercole’s discussion—“ Jesus, the Apostolic Gospel and the Gospels”—summarized at Steve Walton’s blog online: http://stevewalton.info/simon-gathercole-on-the-canonical-and-non-canonical-gospels/

     [11] Richard J. Bauckham, “Gospels (Apocryphal)” in Joel B. Green, et al.,Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers, Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 287.

     [12] Evans, Fabricating Jesus, 71—boldface added.

     [13] See Glenn Miller’s online essay “What about the Gospel of Thomas?” for details and further bibliographic information.  Online:http://christianthinktank.com/gthomas.html.

Monday Night Meditation

Alex the Less:

Great passage!
thank you Walter

Originally posted on Refining theological understanding. Sharpening ethical rigor. Heightening devotional intensity.:

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

(‭Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭15-17‬ MSG)

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A Fascinating Chronology

Humphreys and Waddington have cleared up several theological issues for me by the publication of their paper. Even though the published in 1992, the work was unknown to me until today. I think they are probably correct in their dating chronology of Christ and the references to His crucifixion. The blood moon rising just after the start of The Passover fulfilled Joel’s prophecy which Peter quoted fifty days later at Pentecost. This, to me, makes the most sense of Peter’s speech.

Another point also which I realized from this paper was the aspect of Christ being the “First fruits.” During Passover three “observances” are fulfilled: Passover, waving the first fruits of barley harvest, and seven days of eating bread without yeast (dough starter). Waving the barley sheaves of first fruits occurs the day after Passover (Nissan 16) which coincided with the Sunday upon which Jesus rose from the dead.

Also, the apparent conflict between the Synoptic Gospels and John has been resolved concerning the timing of Jesus’ death. It is now evident to me that the Last Supper was not a “Passover” observance since nowhere a lamb is mentioned.

Here is the summary:

Astronomical calculations have been used to reconstruct the Jewish calendar in the first century AD and to date a lunar eclipse that biblical and other references suggest followed the Crucifixion. The evidence points to Friday 3 April AD 33 as the date of the Crucifixion. This was Nisan 14 in the official Jewish calendar, thus Christ died at precisely the time when the Passover lambs were slain. The date 3 April AD 33 is consistent with the evidence for the start of Jesus’ ministry, with the gospel reference to 46 years to build the temple and with the symbolism of Christ as our Passover lamb. The mention of a solar eclipse at the Crucifixion in some texts of Luke is discussed and explained. A new chronology of the life of Christ is suggested.