We’ve noticed your standards are really slipping. Your men don’t do it the way our forefathers have done it for generations. We can’t agree with you on this. Why aren’t you washing your hands before you eat? What’s happening?
In paraphrase, this was the question that the Pharisees brought to Jesus in Mark 7:1-5. The Pharisees thought that external things were the enemy. As a result, they created a fear-based ministry of condemnation and shelter from the world. They created a long list of do’s and don’ts and imposed this list on everyone as though it were doctrine. What was sneaky about this is that the list looked reasonable, safe, even orthodox. Nothing in their list could be easily refuted from Scripture; after all, you couldn’t find a verse that said it was a bad idea to wash before eating. But their mistake was in asserting that these ideas, these merely man-made precepts, were actually doctrine or teaching that was derivable from Scripture. And more seriously, their mistake was in focusing on this to the exclusion of truly having a heart in pursuit of God (Mark 7:6). The Pharisees were fond of quoting writers from 300 years ago who said that these checklists were sound, but they couldn’t demonstrate their relevance from Scripture itself.
The Pharisees had a fundamental misunderstanding about the heart of man. They thought, as do all fallen men by nature, that corruption comes from without. Thus they focused on surface-level outward things. Functionally, they failed to recognize that “no separation from the world” could ever make them right with God, as the hymn Not In Me so beautifully lays out.
Jesus’s response to this massive failure was to quote Isaiah 29:13, which reads:
This people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.
The sobering reality is that this Pharisaical mindset is with us today. There are many whose reverence for God consists of “tradition learned by rote” rather than by a true, humble desire to have a heart that is near to God.
A Biblical, Reformed anthropology is not afraid to get messy in the real world. It’s not afraid because it recognizes that the real danger of corruption is from the heart, not from a failure to observe external checklists created by a fear-based ministry of condemnation. “There is nothing outside the man which can defile him,” Jesus said in Mark 7:15. It’s taken me a long time to figure out that a lot of serious Bible people don’t actually believe this when the rubber meets the road. They might even be 5-point Calvinists on paper, but they haven’t applied it to the real world. They don’t have a Reformed anthropology in practical daily life.
Many times, this accurate exegesis of Mark 7 is rebuked as an antinomian license to sin, but there’s a simple test that you can apply to any checklist to sniff that out, and that is this: by upholding the checklist, will you be strengthened to fulfill the prayer to not be led into temptation (Matt 6:13)? Remember, the goal in all we do is to have a heart that is drawing close to God. You know you’re in Pharisaical territory when the checklist has absolutely nothing to do with this. Eating with hands that have been washed or not has nothing to do with whether your heart will be wandering away from God into temptation. It doesn’t pass the test. It has no validity.
We have the permission and liberty to get as radical as we need to on ourselves when we’re fighting temptations that steal our hearts from God (Matt 5:29). But when it comes to imposing checklists of random do’s and don’ts that mere men have come up with — that has no place in the kingdom of God. Such checklists usually achieve the exact opposite of genuine spiritual piety; by lifting their adherers up with pride, they leave their hearts farther away from God, not nearer. If that’s you, you better watch out, because Jesus is coming after you.
I could showcase a checklist of precepts that are popular in certain Christian circles that fail to pass the test, but I won’t, because I want you to wrestle with it. Are you in a church where much time is spent “teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Mark 7:7)? In functional terms, what side of this passage are you on, really?
Because it’s that time of year when people talk about these things, today I watched Rick Larson’s documentary on the astronomy behind the Star of Bethlehem. It’s slightly more than an hour long, and you can view it on YouTube here.
There are a lot of interesting things to consider, such as the speculation that these magi were scholastically descendants of Daniel and lived in Babylon some 700 miles east of Jerusalem. Larson’s explanation of Peter’s use of Joel’s prophesying in Acts 2:16ff is insightful, as well as his explanation of what exactly John saw in Revelation 12:1ff. I recommend watching the documentary in its entirety. If you’re new to astronomy like I am, you’ll be introduced to neutral and useful concepts like retrograde motion and blood moons.
There are some problems with his viewpoint though, pontificated in great degree by Colin Nicholl in a thought piece over at Union Theology.1 In fact, Nicholl has written an entire book on this subject in which he argues that the star in Matthew 2 is actually a comet. It’s a shame this book isn’t on Audible, because now I want to read it.
One thing that Nicholl doesn’t go into is the issue about the day of Jesus’ execution. Larson states that it ocurred on a Friday, which I believe to be correct, but he says that it happened on 14 Nisan, which I believe to be incorrect. A.T. Robertson’s Harmony of the Gospels reconciles the seeming contradiction of the Synoptics over against John’s Gospel on this point. Robertson’s Greek knowledge, among other things, has persuaded me that John’s gospel is describing a crucifixion that occurred after the Passover, which is not something the casual English reader would find plausible. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are in the right when they describe a post-Passover crucifixion, and John supports them, albeit with phraseology that must be understood in proper nuanced context. The sabbath did not coincide with the Passover that particular year, and the paschal lambs were not killed the same time that Jesus died — they were killed a day before. Thus, the crucifixion happened on a Friday that was also 15 Nisan. This seems to rule out Larson’s date of Friday, April 3, 33 AD.
Perhaps the big takeaway at this point is that the depictions of magi wandering into a manger are completely fake. This is an example of where all the artwork has clouded the clear reading in Matthew. Shepherds in a manger (Luke 2:16), magi in a house (Matthew 2:11). When we look at Matt 2:7 and 2:16, the evidence is strong that Jesus was up to two years old by the time the magi showed up.
- Union Theology is not to be confused with Union Theological Seminary. As far as I can tell, there is zero connection. Regardless, Colin Nicholl’s guest appearance on this site does not imply his direct affiliation with them. He’s written a total of 3 articles on the site, all of them having to do with this subject of the Bethlehem Star, and his tenure is at University of Cambridge and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary before dedicating his career to biblical research. I’m only mentioning all of this because some people tend to see the word “Union” in a domain and immediately poison the well because of the unforgivable shenanigans at UTS. At ease! ↩︎
I watched this film today and it’s most excellent. Today’s modern predominant flavor of worship isn’t just a mild departure from a cultural, colonial norm. Rather, it’s a grievous, idolatrous, man-centered departure from the clearly-defined pattern of worship prescribed in Scripture.
The God of the Old Testament who struck down Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire in His presence hasn’t changed. To the contrary, because we have the greater light of the New Testament, we are even more accountable before God. Just because God doesn’t strike people down dead today who mock him with contemporary worship does not mean he is not any less displeased.
This film ought to be spread far and wide. May R. Scott Clark’s words come true:
This film will truly help toward Recovering the Reformed Confession.
The Book Extreme Ownership is captivating. It’s written by two Navy SEAL officers. The whole purpose of the book is to take the concepts that the authors learned on the battlefield and apply them to other areas of life. This part caught my ecclesiastical ear:
I made all kinds of mistakes when I lead SEALs. Often, my subordinate leadership would pick up the slack for me. And they wouldn’t hold it against me, nor did I think they were infringing on my leadership turf. On the contrary, I would thank them for covering me. Leadership isn’t one person leading a team. It’s a group of leaders working together up and down the chain of command to lead. If you are on your own, I don’t care how good you are, you won’t be able to handle it.
I’ve noticed that in fundamentalist, landmark, and generally unlearnt circles, there’s a general mockery, disdain, and misunderstanding of churches that recognize the Biblical importance and historical precedent for having a plurality of elders within the context of the local New Testament assembly. Rather than having a “group of leaders working together up and down the chain of command,” what you tend to see in these circles is one sole figure who tries to call all the shots and considers any disagreement - however slight - as contentious turf infringement that must be summarily called out and squelched. This often results in a ministry of condemnation and a fear-based submission that is crippling to true growth. A plurality of elders isn’t a silver bullet that makes all of these challenges go away, but it’s a vitally necessary step in the right direction. It’s an antibiotic that makes this kind of rotten infection less likely to thrive.
Call yourself a church plant if you want, but until you have a plurality of elders, you aren’t within the Biblical and historical range of an orthodox, constituted church.
This isn’t a blind ideology — a standard for the sake of a standard. There are grave consequences that inevitably result in failing to prioritize a robust leadership that extends past one person. Indeed, “Leadership isn’t one person leading a team.” Or in the words of Proverbs 11:14:
Where there is no guidance the people fall,
But in abundance of counselors there is victory.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to think twice before you ignore the combined wisdom of Solomon and SEALs.
The year was 412 AD. Jerome had completed his translation of the Hebrew scriptures from their original Masoretic Text into Latin some seven years earlier, but a sect of fundamentalist Christians were suspicious. The more serious readers among them had noticed some discrepancies between this “modern text” versus the “received text” of the Septuagint, aka LXX. This sect was persuaded that Jerome’s Vulgate translation was undermining God’s word. A conference was convened.
“The Septuagint is the Bible Jesus primarily quoted,” one of the men said, index finger pointed in the air. “It was the Bible the Apostle Paul used. It was the Received Text. In opposition to this, Jerome is attempting to reconstruct the text, which is monstrous and unnecessary. Trying to actually do textual criticism to reconstruct the original text is a complete waste of time and betrays a humanist mindset. Jerome is trying to treat the Bible like it’s just any other book. Nay, we have the Septuagint, the Bible of Jesus and the Reformers of Israel, and it suffices.”
The subject eventually tuned to Daniel 10:13, where the Septuagint read that the angel Gabriel had left Michael with the kings of Persia, whereas Jerome’s Vulgate stated the opposite. Everyone at the conference knew that one of these readings was “very wrong,” to use the words that John Gill would use more than a thousand years later to describe this passage’s discrepancy. Everyone at the conference was also firmly convinced that the correct reading was the one found in the Septuagint, not the Vulgate.
During a Q&A at the conference, someone mused, “How did the seventy Jewish scribes who translated LXX know to choose the correct reading among the existing Hebrew documents in places like this?”
“By the good providence of God,” a preacher emphatically replied. “Even though we have no reliable Hebrew manuscripts that support the LXX reading in Daniel 10:13, you have to remember that we simply do not know what Hebrew texts they had available that we no longer have today. Sometimes, God preserves his Word through a translation, and that’s what we have going on here. To say that the LXX is wrong here is to say that God did not preserve His Word. We must have a higher view of preservation than that! Not one jot or tittle has been lost! This ‘reconstructionist viewpoint’ is incoherent!”
When the recordings of this conference were released, those outside this narrow fundamentalist circle rolled their eyes as they listened. It seemed as if this group would never go away, and that there would always be a cult-like group of Christians who insisted that LXX was always right when it parted ways with the Vulgate. But eventually, this cult disappeared, for it was built upon deeply faulty and ahistorical presuppositions. Their conference recordings were lost to the sands of time. So absurd was the position that eventually, it became challenging for historians to even prove to anyone that such a movement ever existed.
Yearly now sports full compatibility with Dark Mode in iOS, and it allows you to directly read the Old and New Testament portions for each day. This is the #1 request I’ve received since I launched the app in December 2017. Yearly has enjoyed more than 12,000 downloads this year and I’m excited to see it continue to grow in 2020. It’s encouraging to see people use it to read the entire Bible for the first time. Other apps have schedules (YouVersion is a big one) but no other app offers a schedule with a simple and elegant design like Yearly. I think Yearly fulfills a unique role here.
It took me a long time to build out this “go to the reading” feature, mostly because I won’t use it. When I’m reading a Bible on my iPhone, I prefer NeuBible. It’s the best-designed Bible in the App Store. But NeuBible doesn’t support deep linking, and I’ve been hesitant to build a deep linking integration towards some other app.1
Eventually however, popular demand won out. Too many people were asking for it! I’ve answered a lot of support emails the past year where people wanted to know how they could go to the day’s reading. For a while I resorted to copying and pasting this “macro” as my response:
Alas, this app does not have an actual Bible in it. You’ll want to either download a 3rd party one from the App Store (I highly recommend NeuBible, or if you’re looking for a free one, Bible by Life.Church is good too) or use a physical copy.
Hope that helps!
I got tired of having to say this. Finally a close friend pushed me over the edge and I shipped the feature.
If you download YouVersion for iOS, the deep link takes you directly to the appropriate place in YouVersion’s app. If you don’t have YouVersion installed, as a fallback it takes you to Bible.com, the website version of the app.2 Thanks to LifeChurch for giving me permission to use their platform for this often-requested feature!
- This, despite my pleading with the developer to build this out for me. He’s busy, I get it. ↩︎
- I programmed the website to default to the New American Standard Bible, my favorite English translation. If you want to use a translation other than this, just download YouVersion and change the version, and the deep link will remember your preference. ↩︎
A while back I stumbled on a 5-day bible reading schedule at Ligonier Ministries that captivated me. I liked it so much that I decided to build a little web app out of it. I recommend adding it to your home screen so you can enjoy the full-screen and the icon.1 By swiping down, you can change the color theme.2 By tapping each reading, you can mark it as read. By tapping the week, you can arrow between the current week and previous / next weeks. I’m looking forward to using this as my schedule in 2020.
- I thought about making a proper iOS app out of this, or adding this schedule to the preexisting Yearly for iOS, but ultimately decided against it. The customer support is already high enough on that app, and I’m much more proficient in web development than Swift. So for now, it’s just a Progressive Web App. ↩︎
- Requires being on a touch device. ↩︎
On October 25-26, 2019, a conference called the Text & Canon Conference conference, which cost $29 to attend, was hosted by Jeff Riddle and Robert Truelove. It extolled the virtues of the medieval Textus Receptus above the older manuscripts that all major English translations in the past century have been based upon.
On November 8, James White addressed some of the clownish academic missteps of this conference on his Dividing Line. I documented this episode, noting the disappointing character assassination that went on at this conference in the name of good fun. To quote myself from that piece:
My heart especially goes out to the poor Christians in the pews listening to this propaganda. They have an up-hill battle if they’re ever going to come out of this. The resources exist for this to happen, but they’re going to have to take the initiative.
An important part of the November 8 DL episode is that James White exposed the blatantly incorrect reading in the Textus Receptus at Ephesians 3:9, in which it mistakenly substitutes οἰκονομία for κοινωνία.
On November 13, Jeff Riddle posted a response to this, and attempted to defend the indefensible TR reading of κοινωνία.
On November 14, Jeff Riddle posted a second followup response and pointed out that an 11th century miniscule, 2817, supports this TR reading.
On November 21, James White went into great depth on his Dividing Line, looked at P46 carefully, and soundly refuted Jeff’s attempts to say that the evidence of P46 is mixed.
On November 22, Jeff Riddle responded to James’ Diving Line episode from the previous day, and attempted to refute James’ refutation.
All of this back-and-forth provides the necessary context for this post. Here is my response to Jeff’s November 22 piece. I’ve also left a slightly abridged version of this as a comment, but because of its length, and because comments are moderated, it could be weeks before he approves it, or never.1
No brother, I’m sorry. Refutation not refuted. It’s misleading and a serious academic misstep for you to call the οι part “unproven speculation.” The brackets don’t mean that at all. All evidence (the traces of ink, the margin buffer, the proper spelling of the rest of the word, and the 100% agreement in all other manuscripts save one with an error) means that this isn’t really even a debate. Nobody other than your narrow TR-only circles pretends like this is “unproven speculation.”
Here’s what’s ironic and inconsistent: you say that if the TR is wrong here, then God did not preserve his word. But I say that if the TR is right here, then a consistent application of this faulty view of preservation means that for every single Bible that we know about for the first thousand years, God did not preserve his word. Your view functionally means that the state of the Bible before the Reformation matters not. If we went to a Christian living in 800 AD and asked, “Has God preserved his Word?” the answer would be a resounding “Yes.” But he would have οἰκονομία in his Greek Bible. Was God being faithful or not?
This is my biggest problem with your position, Dr. Riddle. Your definition of preservation necessarily means that the overwhelming majority of Christians did not in fact have the Word of God until the Reformation.
An attack on the TR reading of Eph 3:9 is an attack on preservation, you say. You’re not willing to entertain so much as the possibility that οἰκονομία is the correct reading here. Every Christian we know for the first millennia didn’t have this reading. Thus, every Bible was “faulty” here, by your definition. Thus, every Christian we know for the first thousand years didn’t have the fully preserved Word of God. That’s a very dangerous view, and it’s one that we will fight. It necessarily has a very low view of preservation and a low view of the importance of Christians’ Bibles before the Reformation. You deny this of course, but functionally you affirm it.
As far as how “the Reformers would definitely believe,” I direct your attention to Calvin’s commentary on 1 John 2:14 where he states, “copyists presumptuously filled up the number.” His view does not reflect yours. He was open to alternate readings of the TR. You’re anachronistically sabotaging Calvin and Beza and the rest of the Reformers when you play these games.
Appropriating 1 John 4:1 at the close of your post is also dangerous. John’s giving a litmus test for whether someone is a believer. Either you intend that verse to be understood in its context (i.e. White is perhaps a heretic) or you’re muddying the waters for nilo de roock (in comments) to consider it a viable possibility. Willingly or otherwise, because White does the same textual criticism that produced your TR in the first place, you’re questioning his Christian profession. You haven’t the decency to call him by name, but condescend to a sarcastic acronym. He is a published author, professor, and debater. He’s two years into a PhD on this very field of study. And all you do is call him the “popular internet apologist.” Please consider how this comes across. It’s pompous, arrogant, prideful, bombastic. White is far from perfect, nor is he likable for many. But please do not use his imperfection as an excuse for your own.
I feel bad for you. You think that if one jot or tittle of one of the 30+ revisions of the TR is wrong, God didn’t preserve his word, and therefore you have to defend it at all cost, even where the evidence is blatantly, irrefutably to the contrary. This is undermining any credibility you have in textual criticism circles. This Eph 3:9 debate is ground zero. Until there’s an admission that the TR got it wrong here, we’re at an impasse.
Lastly, it’s a false dichotomy to think that you must either have the TR or the Critical Text (the so-called “Enlightenment” text). A text I regularly use is the Robinson-Pierpont Greek New Testament which uses the Byzantine Priority Textform. It has the correct οἰκονομία reading in Eph 3:9.
This last paragraph is in response to Jeff’s desire to call people ETOs (Enlightenment Text Onlyists) as demonstrated in one of his comments on the November 22 piece. This kind of nomenclature is absurd. Any rejection of the Scrivener TR as the final Greek New Testament we’ll ever need is being labeled as ETO, apparently.
More importantly though, the group that holds Jeff Riddle’s position is turning into a cult. People in his camp are already openly questioning the salvation of anyone who doesn’t hold to the TR, and Jeff is at least implicitly doing so by pulling 1 John 4:1 into the discussion. This is very dangerous ground.
Moderator at the late Text & Canon conference, clipped about an hour into yesterday’s Dividing Line:
When the Biblical text was being constructed (I believe this is the TR): by what authority were some manuscripts accepted and other manuscripts rejected?
By the good providence of God.
You cannot use historical-based arguments to defend the TR’s reading of Ephesians 3:9, because such arguments don’t exist. All you’re left with, if you support the TR, is that its reading in Ephesians 3:9 came “by the good providence of God.” You could use this answer, of course, to justify any text, including the NA28.
The difference is that you don’t have to resort to this kind of non-answer with the NA28. That’s the dividing line between these two positions. One has the currency of the facts on its side. The other has nothing but a mystical view of God’s providence that arbitrarily applies to the humanist textual critics of the 16th century but not to the humanist textual critics of the 21st century. Because this side is bankrupt, it has to resort to snark, sneer, sarcasm, slander, misrepresentation of straw man arguments, and emotional-based appeals built on false traditions. This Text & Canon conference took things to a low that I was not expecting. I’m disappointed, and grieved. My heart especially goes out to the poor Christians in the pews listening to this propaganda. They have an up-hill battle if they’re ever going to come out of this. The resources exist for this to happen, but they’re going to have to take the initiative.
James White, on the latest Dividing Line episode, roughly 88 minutes in:
The fundamentalist mindset says, “You need to condemn whoever I condemn. And if you don’t, then the only reason could be that you’re actually secretly on their side, and therefore I must separate from you, and therefore I will condemn you and expose you.” The problem with that mindset, obviously, is that it cannot result in anything but the building of teeny tiny little enclaves of people who think identically with one another. And there aren’t many people who do that.
And everywhere I go now, I meet people who have come out of that kind of narrow, barren, shallow, graceless kind of religion, and have discovered something much more vibrant, and much more alive.
The context of this was the whole Twitter debacle with R. Scott Clark blocking James, and the general outcry for James’ treating Douglas Wilson as a brother in Christ. But this abstraction in the middle of that concrete context deeply resonates.
A passage I’ve been reminding myself frequently is 1 Corinthians 8:1-3:
Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.
Do you think religious institutions – like colleges, churches, charities — should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?
Beto O’Rourke, followed immediately by hearty approval:1
James White, sarcastically responding on Twitter:
Can someone point me to the videos of all of the rest of the Socialist candidates who have rushed out and opposed O’Rourke’s stance? Who have shown a knowledge of American history, maybe even a slight nod to the Constitution? Help me out here.
Under an administration that adheres to O’Rourke’s position, any church that fails to lose its tax-exempt status is aptly described by the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:3-4:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
I can’t think of anything that pontificates turning aside to myths more than a teaching that blatantly denies the sound doctrine of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.
- Romans 1:32, NASB. ↩︎
Earlier this month, Jeff Durbin and James White debated Greg Clark and Dan Ellis over the existence of God in Salt Lake City. This is a fascinating and unusual debate. It is a sharp contrast spiritually, visually, ideologically, grammatically.
This is an entertaining watch. The infamous Steven Anderson notes that this phrase occurs 6 times in the KJV, and “six is the number of a man.” It is a lack of masculinity to urinate sitting down, and this is the problem with Germany today, the US President, and the translators of all the modern Bibles. The difference between a mere male and a real man is whether you pee sitting down, or you piss against the wall.
You can’t make this stuff up. Perhaps the most shocking part is the “Amens” in the background. It’s hard to imagine sitting for years under this type of ministry and taking it seriously.
I had the privilege of preaching an evangelistic sermon from Luke 23 a couple of Sundays ago at my home church. We looked at two paradises: one a clever forgery, offered by the devil; the other a lasting paradise, offered by Christ.
I recently finished Samuel Perry’s book Addicted to Lust: Pornography in the Lives of Conservative Protestants. It’s a devastating read, citing statistic after statistic that demonstrate how pornography has infiltrated secular society as well as the lives of those who name Christ. It’s not the type of book I would recommend as a primary source for someone who is seeking to break free of a pornography addiction. There are other books for that. Rather, it is a high-level book that seeks to survey the broader landscape and psychology underlying the behavior and response of this phenomenon within the lives of conservative protestants. As a psychology minor, I found it deeply insightful and eye-opening.
There are a few concerns that I have with the book, however; among them are the application of critical theory that Perry freely admits to utilizing, and the one-eyebrow-raised, arms-length stance at biblical complementarianism as opposed to feminist egalitarianism.
Leaving those aside, another thought-provoking issue in the book is what Perry refers to as sexual exceptionalism. Perry argues that the West, and particularly the United States, puts a higher emphasis on pietistic idealism and purity in regards to sexuality than it does to other areas of life. That is, protestant conservatives in the U.S. prize sexual uprightness — and denounce sexual debauchery — as a chief, defining characteristic of one’s spiritual state. Compared to other sins, such as deception, greed, or gossipping, sexual impurity is considered a far greater priority and concern in the U.S. than it is in other countries and parts of the world, where vices are prioritized in a more equal fashion. Peery indicates that this sexual exceptionalism espoused by conservative protestants is problematic because it makes admission of wrongdoing harder and blocks the path to confession, accountability, forgiveness, and healing. Towards the end of the book, Perry recommends that we learn to put sexual immorality in its proper place, as one sin along a list of other equally sinful practices, all of which require the same repentance and confession; sexual sins need not be necessarily more taboo than others.
Has the West placed an imbalanced emphasis on the importance of purity in regards to sexuality? I don’t think so. When we turn to the Bible, the primary example of idolatry working itself out in a real-life context is homosexuality (Romans 1:26-27). Sexual sins are the first to be listed in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 list, as well as his Galatians 5:19-21 list. And when you read 1 Cor 6:18, it certainly makes abundantly clear that Paul, writing on the authority of God, saw sexual immorality as uniquely damaging.
Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.
The word “immorality” in the Greek there is πορνείαν, from which we get the word “pornography.” There is something exceptional about sexual sins. In saying this, Paul is really just repeating what Solomon in his wisdom wrote in Proverbs 6:30-32:
Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is hungry; but when he is found, he must repay sevenfold; he must give all the substance of his house. The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; he who would destroy himself does it.
The United States produces more pornography than any other country in the world. False churches have normalized divorce and are moving on to embrace LGBT agendas. Pornography-driven masturbation and internet sex are nearly as common amongst conservative protestants as the surrounding agnostic society. Following Perry’s advice, of leaving so-called sexual exceptionalism, is a step in the wrong direction, away from what the Bible has to say. More than ever, Christians need to faithfully live out sexual purity and proclaim its unique importance. Immorality, unlike every other sin, is a sin against one’s own body. That’s the God-breathed verdict by the mouth of Paul the Apostle.1
- For another New Testament witness, see also 1 Peter 2:9-10. ↩︎
Thoroughly enjoyed this episode of Alpha and Omega Ministries on my bicycle ride this morning. To support the Comma is to undermine, knowingly or ignorantly, the veracity of the text of Scripture. It’s an incoherent, damaging position.
This testimony of Becket Cook is mesmerizing. I’m eagerly looking forward to reading his book once I finish a few others. Some takeaways from this interview:
- Sometimes, a pastor is going to be more effective with an open Bible in a coffee shop than quietly studying in his study.
- Sometimes, a single invitation is all it takes to get someone to go to church.
- Sometimes, a single sermon is all it takes to shake up the life of a lost sinner and cause them to repent of their sin.
- Sometimes, a seeker-friendly church with ahistoric worship can still be an effective means of grace.
The pastor’s study is important. Invitations to church are often ineffective and require interpersonal, long-term relationships. All too often, sinners are hardened by preaching, rather than softened. And there’s a lot of inexcusable nonsense that goes on in the name of worship in churches today. But when God has someone in his cross-hairs, there’s no stopping. They’re going to be reborn. This is such an encouraging story, a reminder that the God Almighty of Joshua’s day is as powerful today as he ever was and ever will be. In the words of Paul in Romans 1:16:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
The Chinese symbol for greedy (婪) is a stacking of female (女) and tree (树). The symbol for righteousness (義) is a stacking of I (我) and sheep (羊). On it goes.
Chris Gordon recently interviewed Rosaria Butterfield and the entire thing is seething with gems.1 Among other things, Chris asked Rosaria to talk about intersectionality and she had this to say a bit past 19 minutes in:
One of the concerns that Christians should have is that intersectionality is no friend to the gospel. Because it starts with a false understanding of personhood. A person is not someone who finds a subject position through intersections of oppression. A person is an image-bearer of a holy God, made male and female, with a soul that will last forever. And if in Christ, a glorified body that will be sexed, that will be male and female, inheriting to the new Jerusalem. And if not in Christ, a sexed body that will indeed suffer in hell for eternity. So to start with the wrong view of personhood, you can never arrive at a Christian ethic starting with anything but a Christian anthropology.
I’ve read her first book but it’s always insightful to hear someone give an impromptu talk such as this interview. Genetics helps, but this level of clarity and precision on the fly can only come from a disciplined life of dedicated reading, writing, thinking, talking, and memorizing. It behooves God’s people to strive for more of this.
Marty Sampson recently announced his departure from the Christian faith in a widely-circulated Instagram post that’s now deleted:
This is a soapbox moment so here I go … How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.
As James White ably pointed out on a recent Dividing Line episode, this claim that “no one talks about” these things isn’t true. Apparently Sampson’s former shallow circles didn’t talk about these things, but many others have, and in great depth.1
In Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman claimed that the Synoptic Gospels described a post-Passover crucifixion, while John’s gospel described a pre-Passover crucifixion. This is a common point of dispute, but in his A Harmony of the Gospels, A.T. Robertson gave a scholarly, satisfactory explanation for how John was actually describing a pre-Passover crucifixion that is in agreement with the clear narrative in the Synoptics. But if you only listened to Ehrman and didn’t give the other side a fair hearing, you might be tempted to think that Sampson was correct, that the Bible is full of contradictions, and that this is an example of one of them.
There are rational, coherent responses to the objections that Sampson raised. But it is wrong to think that if he just had more knowledgeable friends, and had gotten the answers he was looking for, he’d still have his faith. This is a dimension to the discussion that I wish James White had brought out more.
Ignorance didn’t cause Sampson’s apostasy. Unbelief did.
You don’t have to know A.T. Robertson’s explanation of the Passover in relation to the crucifixion to keep your faith. If you lived on an island with nothing but an English copy of a Bible and Misquoting Jesus, read Ehrman’s alleged contradiction in the gospels, and could think of no way to reconcile the accounts, that would not ultimately shake your faith in the truthfulness of the gospel if you were truly born again. Instead, you would recognize that your knowledge is limited and faulty and that one day you would understand it more clearly. In other words, the antidote to apostasy is not mere knowledge, as useful as that can be, but rather, God-given belief.
God’s people regularly face the hurdles that Sampson described in his Instagram post. Since the Garden of Eden, Satan has been sowing seeds of doubt about God and the reliability of his word. Is God really good? Has he really revealed himself to us today in a trustworthy manner? These aren’t new questions. They’re as old as Lucifer and the first man and woman to breathe on this planet.
We don’t always have all the answers. We walk by faith, not by sight. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 that we see through a mirror dimly, not face to face. We only “know in part” — that is, we only partially know. Our knowledge is incomplete. But with that partial knowledge, nothing incompatible should phase us. Paul told the Galatians that if an extraterrestrial creature were to come and reveal a gospel other than the one revealed in the Bible, such a creature would be accursed. In other words, we’re in the eye of a storm, and nothing should unsettle us or cause us to waver, regardless of what is swirling around us.
Keep a copy of Robertson’s book around — it’s useful. As Peter urged in his first letter, always be ready to give a rational, coherent defense for your hope in God to those around you. When the occasion merits and as you have knowledge, remove reasonable doubt in the veracity of seemingly contradictory passages in the Bible. But don’t mistakenly think that this is where the real battle ground lies. These objections that the world raises are smoke screens, interference. They’re excuses that mask the real issue: unbelief. People fail to believe, not because the truth claims of Christianity are unbelievable, but because their heart is set against them. This bondage and loyalty to the kingdom of darkness is the root of the matter.
On a note of encouragement, as we look at these manifestations of unbelief, they actually reveal to us more about God. In times like these, perhaps the best way for us to begin to understand the greatness of God is this: he’s more powerful than the unbelief that has Sampson so trapped that he’s convinced the God of the Bible can’t exist. That is power. That is a God worth worshipping. Next time you think about Marty Sampson and are tempted to be discouraged at these first-fruits of the tsunami of apostasy, remember this: God is more powerful than the unbelief that swallowed him whole. For those of us who have been shown God’s kingdom in rebirth, this is cause for fear and rejoicing. Fear, for this would be our fate if left to ourselves. Rejoicing, for by God’s free grace, he has shown us things as “infants” that he has kept from those who are “wise and intelligent” (Luke 10:21).
- It’s worth pointing out that Sampson was one Google search away from exploring each of these things he mentions. Sadly, he just wasn’t trying very hard. ↩︎
In his Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, Mark Ward cites this insightful quote from Benjamin Franklin:
It is now more than 170 years since the translation of our common English Bible. The language in that time is much changed, and the stile being obsolete, and thence less agreeable, is perhaps one reason why the reading of that excellent book is of late much neglected.
I read Mark’s book last night and highly recommend it. The two most valuable insights were the “false friends” chapter and the original difference between “thee” versus “ye” (hint: it did not distinguish between singular and plural).
Council of Trent, On Justification, Canon XXIV:
If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.
It’s funny: I talk to a lot of Catholics, and when I tell them, “We’re saved on the merits of Christ’s work alone,” they nod their heads. Most modern Catholics don’t know their history well enough to know that this blatantly contradicts their church’s 19th ecumenical council in the 16th century. The number of heretical canons that came out of this council are truly astounding when you read them.
On my commute to work yesterday morning I was listening to part 23 of James White’s series on church history. He quoted a piece of Cyprian’s letter that he wrote before his own execution by a Roman sword. His recipients were working as slaves in gold and silver mines in deathly conditions. Cyprian writes:
But that, being first severely beaten with clubs, and ill-used, you have begun by sufferings of that kind, the glorious firstlings of your confession, is not a matter to be execrated by us. For a Christian body is not very greatly terrified at clubs, seeing all its hope is in the Wood. The servant of Christ acknowledges the sacrament of his salvation: redeemed by wood to life eternal, he is advanced by wood to the crown. But what wonder if, as golden and silver vessels, you have been committed to the mine that is the home of gold and silver, except that now the nature of the mines is changed, and the places which previously had been accustomed to yield gold and silver have begun to receive them? Moreover, they have put fetters on your feet, and have bound your blessed limbs, and the temples of God with disgraceful chains, as if the spirit also could be bound with the body, or your gold could be stained by the contact of iron. To men who are dedicated to God, and attesting their faith with religious courage, such things are ornaments, not chains; nor do they bind the feet of the Christians for infamy, but glorify them for a crown. Oh feet blessedly bound, which are loosed, not by the smith but by the Lord!
It’s one thing to patiently await an execution in a cold, rank, rat-infested prison. It’s another thing to slowly die in a mine under hard labor, being beaten in chains with clubs. After reading this letter, I am embarrassed to complain about the heat of the July sun. What do American evangelicals who think Billy Graham preached the Sermon on the Mount know of this? What do I know of this?
In light of the distinction between a ministry of condemnation and a ministry of righteousness, some basic questions need to be addressed: When the pastor is treating the sanctification of Christians with God’s law (the third use of the law), is he using the killing power of the law in anger to correct a perceived lack of spirituality, or is he is speaking to them as believers under the grace of God? Conversely, when the pastor is crushing the people with the killing power of the law (the first use of the law), is his goal to lead the people to Christ to receive forgiveness and grace? What are the fruits that follow such a ministry in the life of the congregation, joy or guilt?
On May 24, 2019, I sent Dr. Jeff Riddle this email, with a desire to better understand his view of the preservation of Scripture. He was kind enough on June 20 to post his thoughts in a podcast episode as well as a written blog post. There are a few things to which I would like to respond.
One is not ready, it has been said, to properly analyze an argument until one can accurately reflect that viewpoint in one’s own words. My email was a test to repeat back the argument of Dr. Riddle’s position on textual preservation, to see if I could achieve this goal yet. I attempted this by first outlining some bullet points on which I thought we would have common ground. They were making historic truth claims that are either true or false. They’re either verifiable or disprovable. I was not expecting there to be major disagreement; but as it turned out, Dr. Riddle took issue with much of what I postulated. I found this to be perplexing. I wish to look at a few of Dr. Riddle’s replies. First, there is this one:
The Received Text did not come into existence only in the sixteenth century. It is identical with the divine original.
These are strong words. Identical? How identical? To the last “jot and tittle” (Matthew 5:18, which Dr. Riddle referenced in the podcast)? Dr. Riddle can’t mean to the last jot and tittle because elsewhere in this episode he said this:
There are obvious slight differences in the printed editions of the TR.
And this, about 9 minutes from the end:
Now during the Reformation period, there was a time when in the Providence of God the text was printed, it was edited, it was promulgated, and it became the basis for the vernacular translations of the Protestant era.
It was “edited.” How can that be identical to the divine original? There is an inescapable logical fallacy here with these truth claims. If someone wants to say that the TR is very close to the divine original, that is one thing, and we can all agree on that.1 But identical? This is ahistorical and, I say this as respectfully as I can, Dr. Riddle’s very words self-contradict this truth claim. There were more than 30 editions of the TR. Which one of them was identical to the divine original?
Since it is identical with the divine original, there were Greek mss. that “matched the TR” from the beginning. Thus, there were mss. that contained the inspired and preserved Word of God from the beginning.
I don’t understand the meaning of “matched the TR.” Do this mean that there are Greek manuscripts that have matched some version of the TR to its very last variant? Such a manuscript has never been found. No textual critic has ever claimed that such a thing existed. If such a thing did exist, all the Reformers would have needed was to find that perfect manuscript, and it would have saved them many thousands of hours of collation work. But they did not have that perfect manuscript, which means that that hypothetical document, no trace of which exists, was not preserved. By this logic and interpretation, God failed on his promise. By performing collating and engaging in textual criticism, the very behavior of the Reformers upon whom Dr. Riddle claims allegiance shows the fault of this viewpoint. There was no single Greek manuscript text that any of the Reformers solely relied upon. Dr. Riddle’s position here is in direct opposition to the belief and practice of the Reformers. It is not a continuation of it. It is a deviation from it.
Christians had the “full canon” the moment the last canonical book was written.
Which Christians? The ones who didn’t have copies of the last book the moment it was written?
God knew what the Bible would contain before he created the universe. But the completion of the canon in time and space is meaningless from man’s standpoint if nobody possesses it. Thus, it is pointless to say that in a theoretical sense, Christians had the full canon as soon as the canon was written. In that scenario, they don’t have it in a physical reality any more than they did back when it existed as nothing more than a thought in the mind of God. In reality, it would be hundreds of years before meaningful numbers of Christians possessed the full canon. This historical fact isn’t in dispute.
Next, we move on to Philip Schaff and his book Theological Propaedeutic. Dr. Riddle writes:
I would have to review his perceived KJV “mistranslations” one by one to see if they have any merit or if, as I suppose, they might be contested.
As noted in the episode, the book is available for free on Google Books. Here’s the direct link to page 193. Around minute 27 in the podcast, Dr. Riddle had this to say as well:
[Philip Schaff] has a dog in this fight. He’s trying to overthrow the KJV […]
There’s a lot of bias in that viewpoint. I encourage anyone to look at the avalanche of problems with the Authorized Version that Schaff points out and honestly assess them. Schaff isn’t trying to overthrow the KJV for the sake of overthrow. He’s demonstrating how badly in need of a new translation were the English-speaking people. It’s painful for instance to read John Gill’s mention of “straining at a gnat” and recognize that he’s memorized a printing error that doesn’t even make sense.
Next, I want to make a syllogism black and white to clear up some confusion.
- Nothing other than the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek are the divinely inspired Word of God.
- Most Christians do not have literate access to these original languages.
- Therefore, most Christians do not have literate access to the perfectly divinely inspired Word of God.
In a purely logical sense, this is true. Nobody disputes the first two propositions, and the conclusion necessarily follows. However, this can be easily misconstrued to imply assumptions that we normally associate with Islam and classical Catholicism. I probably did not need to include this as a bullet point in my original email. In a functional sense, we understand that to the extent that a translation follows the original text, it can be used with confidence and authority. However, it must be remembered that no translation is perfect or inspired and that ultimately our trust must be in the original.
Preservation does guarantee that the Bible does not change.
The printed TR tradition did not change much […]
Does the Bible not change, or does it not change much? Which is it?
This brings us to a very important point. When discussing the preservation of the Bible, we aren’t discussing whether the actual Word of God changes. Rather we are discussing whether our knowledge of what that Word is changes or not. Nobody in this conversation disagrees on the truth claim that the actual Word of God does not change. To state that truth claim in this conversation is irrelevant and distracting. The thing I’m interested in discussing is whether or not our understanding of what the Word of God is changes. And what’s fascinating is that in the second sentence, Dr. Riddle agrees with me that our understanding can and does change. If only he would be consistent!
When we change a print edition of a New Testament, we aren’t saying that the Word of God changed. We’re saying that our understanding of what the Word of God is has changed. The Reformers produced more than 30 editions to the TR. In doing so, once again the Reformers by their actions are refuting the truth claim that new discoveries and knowledge can’t affect our understanding of what God’s Word is. Any dissent to this is ahistorical.
Your “reconstruction” of the TR position is not something I recognize. What is this 100 year process? Who were the scholars working on this who rejected justification by faith and held other doctrinal errors similar to those held by modern text critics of the nineteenth century? Are you talking about Erasmus? This was not true of the Protestant orthodox (like Stephanus and Beza) who produced the printed editions of the TR.
Yes, I’m talking about the 16th century. As noted in the podcast, the first print edition of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament was in 1516. Beza’s last came in 1598. I’m talking about this time period.
It’s disappointing that Dr. Riddle fails to recognize the historical realities of the reconstruction process. In Beyond What Is Written we get an insight into Erasmus in his own words on page 23, in which he divulges his method of arriving at the “true reading” of a text:
The man who makes such advances does not follow any manuscripts which happen to come into his hands, nor does he stick to one only. He makes a selection. Nor does he rely only on the comparison of his manuscript authorities: he carries out careful research among the Greek and Latin commentators to find out how a passage has been read by the most reputable authorities, how they have explained it, what measure of agreement there is between them. And even then he does not deny anyone’s right to his own view unless the error is so obvious that it would be shameful to turn his back on it.
In his own words, Erasmus is rejecting the notion that any singular one of his consulted manuscripts could possibly be “identical with the divine original” as Dr. Riddle claims. Rather, he “makes a selection” amongst multiple manuscripts all of which have varying levels of accuracy and corruption. Dr. Riddle has an idealism that is grounded in fabrication and fiction, not in historic reality.
It’s interesting to see Dr. Riddle’s desire to distance himself from Erasmus while at the same time trying to claim that “the printed TR tradition did not change much.” If the tradition did not change much, that meant that Erasmus was an important pioneer who cannot be ignored. It’s a contradictory line of argumentation to try to distance oneself from Erasmus on the one hand, while at the same time maintaining that there was remarkable stability of the Greek Text during the 16th century.
Erasmus denied the gospel. In his On the Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther debated Erasmus on the core of the gospel. A man who denied justification by faith was a very heavy influencer on the TR that exists today. If Dr. Riddle insists that the early pioneers of the print edition of his text not be judged, then I ask him to extend the favor and never again speak of the ills of Westcott and Hort. Moreover, when one reads Erasmus in his own words, one comes to the inescapable conclusion that men like the late critical text advocate and scholar Bruce Metzger have held a higher view of preservation than did Erasmus.
But Erasmus aside, let’s talk about Stephanus and Beza. Theodor Beza was the successor to John Calvin at Geneva. What was Calvin’s view of the preservation of Scripture? Let’s look at his commentary on 1 John 2:14 for a sampling.
These repetitions I deem superfluous; and it is probable that when unskillful readers falsely thought that he spoke twice of little children, they rashly introduced the other two clauses. It might at the same time be that John himself, for the sake of amplifying, inserted the second time the sentence respecting the young men, (for he adds, that they were strong, which he had not said before;) but that the copyists presumptuously filled up the number.
John Calvin would have been fine with this “superfluous” verse to disappear. Just how received was this so-called received text? It sounds to me that John Calvin would have been much more at home with a modern day movement to fix the corruption of the text. My point is this: Dr. Riddle is trying to claim the Reformers to support a position that is historically implausible and that betrays an ignorance of what these men themselves believed.
The confessional text is NOT that “things were messy for the first 15 centuries.” No, God’s Word was “by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages.” The true text has not been “messy.”
We have more than 5,800 New Testament Greek manuscripts available, and not one of them perfectly matches the TR. Yet Dr. Riddle claims that “there were Greek mss. that ‘matched the TR’ from the beginning.” That means that finding the Word of God (on Dr. Riddle’s terms) is looking for a needle in a haystack. A needle, I daresay, that we don’t have any historical grounds of ultimately finding. That sounds messy to me. And it sounds messy to anyone who’s spent meaningful time investigating the realities of the transmission of the New Testament text. At the time of the Council of Nicaea, Athanasius of Alexandria, defending the Trinity, had an Alexandrian Bible that would’ve looked a whole lot more like the CT than the TR. Meanwhile the heretic Arius, denying the deity of Christ, had a Bible that looked more like the TR. That sounds messy to me. The “received text” (to appropriate a confusing term) for the first 800 years of New Testament history was various forms the Alexandrian text. That sounds messy to me. The TR was wishy-washy on James 4:2, and the Tyndale Bible ended up skipping a phrase that the KJV later included, reflecting disagreeing versions of the TR. That sounds messy to me. For six years, the TR didn’t have the Comma in it. That sounds messy to me.
In all of this, I sense a fear that if one admits that the story of the preservation of the New Testament is messy, one must necessarily conclude that God’s Word is itself messy. But as I’ve tried to belabor above, the former does not require the latter. Denying the former is exchanging truth for certainty, and results in the loss of both.2
I’ll close with one final quote taken chronologically out of order in the podcast:
It is not true that God’s people have at various points not had the perfectly preserved Word. That would be contrary to the Confessional doctrine of Preservation.
I’m going to quote II Chronicles 34:14-15 to refute this one, using Dr. Riddle’s preferred English translation:
And when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of the Lord given by Moses. And Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan.
Part of being Sola Scriptura is that every doctrine ultimately comes from the Bible, not from perceived interpretations of confessions and man’s tradition. Sola Scriptura’s jurisdiction extends to the doctrine of the preservation of Scripture. The Bible makes it very clear that the Scriptures were lost for a period of time, for we read in verse 19:
And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes.
Had Josiah owned the book of the law before this moment, he wouldn’t have been surprised to hear its words from Shaphan. Our view of the preservation of Scripture must have room for the narrative in II Chronicles 34. The Word of God was lost and then later restored. If it could happen then, it could happen now. King David, with all of his Psalms that TR-onlyists love to quote in support of their position, came before Josiah.
It’s man’s natural thinking to want to put everything in a neatly-defined box. God’s bigger than that.
Necessity has required for me to disagree, in some cases strongly, with Dr. Riddle. I consider him a brother in Christ, and I pray that these examinations are both given and received in humility, and useful unto edification.
- Admitting that the TR is merely very close to the divine original is a slippery slope for a TR-onlyist, because it opens the door for a future printed text to be even closer. It opens the door for modern textual criticism to pick up where the Reformers left off. That is antithetical to Dr. Riddle’s position. I understand why ideologically he has to shy away from saying that. But it’s an inescapable historical reality that even he is forced to attest to. ↩︎
- We do not hold to doctrinal perfectionism. God’s salvation is perfect, but our understanding of it is imperfect. Similarly, God’s Word is perfect, but our understanding of it is imperfect. To say that our copies of the Scriptures today are ever so slightly different from the original autographs does not deny the doctrine of God’s Word enduring forever anymore than does our imperfect knowledge of salvation deny the fullness of Christ’s atoning work. ↩︎