Monthly Archives: July 2016

Textual Criticism, Part Three

This is the third of a five part series in which the writer aims to make the basics of a scholarly discipline accessible to his fellow non-experts…

GLEANINGS — February 1, A.D. 2015

Textual crticisim has a legitimate place in the work of faithfully dividing the word of truth. It concerns the TRANSMISSION of the Bible. Locksmiths and their trade provide an analogy to help us grasp what this scholarly discipline involves…

If you have an original door key and copy it, then copy the copy, then copy that copy and so forth, eventually you will have a key that no longer opens the door. That’s because each successive descendant (so to speak) of the original key is slightly deteriorated; less conformed to the cylinder tumblers inside the lock.

We do not deny that VARIANT readings of some passages of Scripture exist. They arose as the original, inerrant MANUSCRIPTS (MSS) of the Holy Spirit inspired writers were manually copied and recopied until Herr Gutenberg put scribes out of business. We only have descendants of the originals, but we also have divine promises about Scripture that copiers of door keys do no have! Variants have not taken away the key of knowledge, they have not corrupted the word of God. In fact, they enter into the wondrous story of how God has providentially preserved His word.

Let’s go back to our door lock and keys analogy. It stands to reason that a second generation key will work the lock more smoothly than a tenth generation key. But does the same reasoning apply as forcefully regarding Bible MSS? Is older necessarily better? Here’s another analogy…

Suppose that before the day of information clouds and e-books, a pastor had a couple of books in his library, namely The Book of Mormon and the Watchtower Tract and Bible Society’s New World Translation. He referred to these sources of heretical teaching as he contended for the faith once delivered to the saints and refuted error in the spirit of Jude verse 4 and Titus 1:9. Through such works of the devil a minister of the true word of God is better able to know his enemy.

Since he only used them for reference, those volumes remain in great condition to this day. They have no dog eared pages, no broken bindings, and the ink has not faded. It is not so regarding his favorite study Bible! That volume was lovingly handled again and again. Some pages are torn, there are a couple of coffee stains on others, the cover is ragged. In fact, it is the third study Bible he has owned, the first two having become so worn out that they had to be replaced.

It stands to reason that in the days before the printing press, a corrupt Bible MSS would be kept for reference only and hence survive after many centuries, while the MSS known to be quite faithful to the AUTOGRAPHS (original writings of the inspired writers) would become worn out, recopied, and discarded. Result: more recent MSS trumps older MSS for faithfulness.

Another truth of Scripture to keep in mind for this discussion is this: there is but ONE divine Author of the entire Bible. The skeptic who believes the Bible to be only a human book denies this. To him, appealing to another book of the Bible to help resolve a difficulty arising from textual variation is not acceptable. For the believer who knows that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), cross referencing is not only acceptable, but is an indispensable interpretive tool.

Originally published elsewhere, February 1, A.D. 2015

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Textual Criticism, Part Two

This is the second of a five part series in which the writer aims to make the basics of a scholarly discipline accessible to his fellow non-experts…

GLEANINGS — January 25, A.D. 2015

We began to address this subject standing by faith alone upon the solid rock of God’s word alone, making no apology for that, and showing that the Bible proclaims its divine origin, purity, infallibility, and incorruptibility. God Himself persuades by it. Never wavering from that foundation, let’s apply Biblical precepts to the history of the TRANSMISSION of the Bible.

That term refers to the fact that after the books of the Bible were written through men inspired by the Holy Spirit, their original documents were copied by hand, as were copies of the copies, and so on through the centuries (until the printing press came along). It cannot be denied that copying errors occured, and hence we have what are called VARIANTS. Here is a hypothetical example:

A. Some ancient handwritten copies (manuscripts)  read “HE healed the blind man.”

B. Other ancient manuscripts (abbreviation MSS)   read  “JESUS healed the blind man.”

Unperturbed, at once we appeal to our Biblical precepts that Scripture cannot be broken, and that God will preserve His infallible word. One one hand, we don’t deny that the AUTOGRAPH (original writing) from which all copies “descend” had only one reading. On the other hand, neither do we despair and say, “the original might have been ANYTHING!” No! Because God preserves His word, we know that the original was either A or B! Any alleged option C, that has no ancient MSS attesting to it, is merely speculation, usually arising from a skeptical source.

So the Bible believing textual scholar labors in comparing the literally thousands of MSS that exist (for the New Testament books*) seeking to determine which of two or more variant readings found in various ancient MSS for the same passage is faithful to the original. In most cases, practical certainty is attainable. NO case presents a substantial uncertainty. In our hypothetical example, the CONTEXT of the passage would make it clear who healed the blind man. We don’t have a Bible that leaves us in the dark as to whether the writer was referring to Jesus or Judas in any passage!

The faithful course of action for a modern publisher of paper or electronic Bibles is to indicate places in the text of Scripture where a variant exists. That is exactly what we find in most sound English translations. The faithless course is to usurp the authority of God’s word, and based on doctrinal or other biases, presume to declare one variant reading to be the certain one.

The ANTIQUITY of a MSS (its age) is rightfully a weighty consideration for the believing textual scholar. However, another precept of faith kicks in, that of TEXTUS RECEPTUS – that is, “received text.” In other words, what has the sovereign God of providence caused to be transmitted down through the centuries and used by His people? If a manuscript is very old, does that always and necessarily mean it is better than younger manuscripts?

Lord willing, that question will be explore in our next “Gleaning.”

* This discussion of the subject of textual criticism primarily concerns this valid scholarly discipline’s handling of the New Testament MSS, but the Bible’s own precepts about itself apply to the textual transmission of both testaments.

Originally published elsewhere, January 25, A.D. 2015

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Textual Criticism, Part One

This is the first of a five part series in which the writer aims to make the basics of a scholarly discipline accessible to his fellow non-experts…

GLEANINGS — January 18, A.D. 2015

Textual criticism when Scripture is the text? What a concept! It smacks of an incredible arrogance. As if man, instead of living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, could treat Scripture like food columnists who discuss the pros and cons of certain restaurants and the meals they serve!

Be assured that rightly understood, that is not the meaning of the term. Yes, there is something called “higher criticism.” Its lofty ideas have been brought low again and again as believers worked to destroy intellectual strongholds of the kingdom of darkness in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 and Ephesians 5:11. Yes, there is the danger that an uninstructed Christian might be led into doubt as he considers this perplexing subject. Take that as a call to advance in knowing what you believe and why you believe it!

The Gospel of Mark chapter 16, verses 9-20, provides a wonderful opportunity to do that. Comparing different English translations of that passage (originally written in ancient Greek), we find that different translators handle it in diverse ways, some even omitting the verses. Many Bibles have footnote statements about comparative ancient manuscripts. Some put the verses in brackets. What are we to make of all this? Let’s go straight to the Word of God, the source of truth in all areas of knowledge.

Regarding portions of itself, the Bible teaches there are, “…some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction…” (cf. 2 Peter 3:16). Following are seven Biblical calls to hearts renewed by the power of the Gospel, preached by Holy Spirit sent from Heaven (1 Peter 1:12), to lay hold by faith on the trustworthiness of Scripture as the same Holy Spirit illumines those renewed hearts by His divine power:

1. “And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” (Exodus 31:18)

2. “Therefore I love Your commandments more than gold, yes, than fine gold! Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way.” (Psalm 119:127,128)

3. “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.” (Proverbs 30:5)

4. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, and Luke 21:33 – identical words in the same order in the original language in all three referenced verses; of course it is the Lord Jesus Christ Who is speaking)

5. “…and the Scripture cannot be broken.” (from John 10:35 – a parenthetical but not one bit less authoritative assertion of the Lord Jesus Christ)

6. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

7. “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

Upon this solid rock we stand by faith alone, making no excuses for that. And we rest assured that any skeptical challenges to the infallible, inerrant, God-breathed and hence fully authoritative holy Bible can be effectively addressed. In the words of old time radio broadcasters, “Stay tuned…”

Originally published elsewhere, January 18, A.D. 2015

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Taking a Stand

GLEANINGS — January 11, A.D. 2015

“The One who made the Pleiades and Orion, Who turns darkness into dawn and darkens day into night, Who summons the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the earth – Yahweh is His name.” (Amos 5:8)

In A.D. 1650, James Ussher’s diligent work resulted in the publication of an exhaustive chronological tome, The Annals of the World. It asserted that 4,004 B.C. was the year in which divine creation took place. Other Bible believing chronologists since Ussher have agreed with him in essence, offering creation dates that differ at the most by a decade or so. Most people today find this conclusion – that the world is just a little more than 6,000 years old – utterly incredible.

Caring little for whatever incredulity, ridicule, or opposition might come from within the Church or from skeptics without who despise her, let those who love God’s word affirm these things:

1. Time, space, matter – along with whatever else we exceedingly limited creatures might dare call the “rudiments” of the creation of God – are themselves only a decade or so older than six millenia. Only God is without origin; time, space, and matter are part of His created order.

2. This roundish orb, teeming with life, is not merely the garden spot of what is called the solar system. The sun itself is much more than merely one in a cluster of stars; a cluster that along with many other similar clusters (galaxies) is merely the chaotic detritus of a big bang which somehow formed an ultimately meaningless universe. We are NOT “star dust.”

3. The cosmos (the universe) is the work of the Almighty builder, Who called it the heavens and earth. The heavens contain many wonders; they declare the glory of God. One divinely revealed purpose of them is to be “for signs and seasons, and for days and years…and to give light on the earth.” The sun and the moon are the two greatest of earth’s created light-givers, signs, and time keepers.

4. That amazing earth is not just a planet. It is mankind’s unique dwelling place, whereupon the Creator Himself became incarnate as a Man. The earth is not fragile, and no human power will ever destroy it.

5. Evolution, which has never been observed in even one of the highly adaptive liforms made by the Giver of all life, is a destructive myth. Sadly at present, it hinders applied science insofar as it opiates the minds of the ones dong the application. The true scientific method (which never proudly presents theory as dogma) has its roots in minds unencumbered with such superstitious hogwash…minds which would have found evolution to be absurd, along with its false presuppositions of deep time and a big bang.

6. Reality surpasses science fiction’s greatest speculation. God’s astonishing creation includes non-human, rational “extraterrestrials!” They are called angels. Most of these mysterious beings faithfully continue to serve their sovereign, righteous, eternal Lord as He works out His plan for His cosmos and all its inhabitants. Some of these “Biblical aliens” have turned aside in rebellion against Him unto unrighteousness. Their wicked, despotic master is called the deceiver…the accuser of the brethren…that ancient serpent who comes only to kill and destroy.

Reject all his tempting sophistry, shiny lies, and siren calls! As at the beginning, they are packaged as the desirable key to some deeper, secret knowledge, but lead only to the everlasting lake of fire and brimstone, prepared for the devil and his angels, which is the second death.

Originally published elsewhere, January 11, A.D. 2015

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A Short Trip to the Beach

Record summer temperatures are predicted here today. Sunbathers best not let themselves bake too long.

It will not take long to demolish a flimsy stronghold raised against the knowledge of God. It blows away as would a cabana assaulted by a fierce hurricane. Hop in my car of conceptualization. Let’s go visit the bright seashore…

Having found an ideal spot, spread our blankets, and pitched our umbrella over our well stocked cooler, we begin to relax, apply lotion, and gaze about us. What’s this? A man is walking along, carrying of all things a battery-powered pocket flashlight!

As he draws near, we see that he is occasionally turning it on and waving it about. Then we hear words that first astonish, then draw out our compassion as we wonder if the man has become a victim of sunstroke.

“Where is this ‘SUN?'” he cries vehemently. We see him turn on the flashlight again, and aim it here and there. Right upon us now he confronts us civilly and apparently in complete sobriety: “Do you believe in the sun?”

Looking at one other we think that perhaps this is a practical joke. This encounter is being video recorded. Later we will find posted online the reactions of ourselves and other beach goers who were asked this funny question. Let’s smile and play along.

“Yes, we believe in the sun!” Waiting for some kind of punchline or funny follow-up, instead we realize that our guest is passionately in earnest as he asks, “Why?!” Looking closer at the man and all around, we see neither body cam nor accomplices. No video record of this interview is being made.

“Why, I ask you! Can you PROVE to me that this ‘sun’ exists? I’ve been walking along this beach for an hour looking for it. No matter where I turn my trusty flashlight, I cannot find it! You people who believe in the sun are either under some kind of delusion, or refuse to accept that your theory of the existence of a sun is illogical and unscientific. Here, just take this flashlight. Point to the sun with it, and I will join you in believing the sun exists. Seeing is believing.”

We can conclude our sandy outing there. Create your own flabbergasted ending to the conversation while I explain the allegory.

The man with the flashlight is the garden variety a-Theist. His flashlight is his touted confidence in empirical evidence and his reasoning power; his claim that unless he can detect something with his senses or prove it logically, he simply will not acknowledge its existence.

Almighty God the Source of all light, wisdom, and knowledge is represented by the sun. He is the light by which all other things are seen, the reasonable Creator Who gave us an ability to reason which reflects His eternal mind. He is the ultimate grounds of proof for anything that can be proven. Attempting to prove His existence is like using a flashlight to find the noonday sun on a cloudless day.

God has surrounded us with an ubiquitous, inescapable testimony to His eternal power and divine majesty. Our seaside and beach stand for this entire cosmos in which we all dwell. The universe is a perpetual manifestation of the glory of God to Whom all thanksgiving and praise is due. No, we cannot gaze directly upon Him now. That would be just as harmful to us at present as it is harmful to stare directly into the face of that fiery orb which gives light and heat to all the earth.

But the day is coming on which God, God incarnate, will be seen by every human eye. That is the day “…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe…” (from the apostle Paul’s second letter to disciples of Christ in the ancient port city of Thessalonika on the Aegean coast)

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Suffer the Little Children

GLEANINGS — December 7, A.D. 2014

That old English rendition of a saying of Jesus has given rise to playful quips about the exasperation of adults as they interact with the very young. Without dereliction in our duties as parents, as grandparents, or as others who have promised to support parents*, let’s fight that tendency toward exasperation (perhaps thereby remaining young at heart ourselves) and remember that the Bible says:

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Psalm 127:3)

The actual sense of the phrase (suffer the little children) in Christ’s teaching, recorded by three of the four Gospel writers, is that of allowing, or permitting the little children. For instance, the English Standard Version of Luke 18:15,16 reads:

“Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’ “

The very next words of the Master on that occasion were: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

A helpful distinction has been made between the words childISH and childLIKE. Our Lord is not asserting that receiving the kingdom of God must occur in a childish way. Consider the words His Spirit gave the apostle: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)

And in his depiction of how the saints are to be equipped for the work of the ministry, the same apostle envisioned that they would “…no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ…” (Ephesians 4:14,15)

So what does Jesus mean when He says that to such (i.e. children) the kingdom of God belongs? He is referring to the way a child is completely dependent on adults for basic subsistence and all the other good things he or she might receive. We must receive the kingdom of God as a gift, not earn the kingdom of God as wages. God is the all providing Father, those who enter the kingdom of His Son are children unable to provide for themselves unless the Spirit of God works within them.

Those who imagine they deserve or have merited a place in God’s kingdom are actually very far from that kingdom.

* A wise option offered in the Directory for the Worship of God of the Presbyterian Church in America is often used when the sacrament of baptism is administered to covenant children, namely that the officiating minister include the following question in the service:

“Do you as a congregation undertake the responsibility of assisting the parents in the Christian nurture of this child?”

 

Originally published elsewhere, December 7, A.D. 2014

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The Answer is Not Far Off

We banned prayer offered by teachers in state schools decades ago. More recently, young people who dared stand by a flagpole to pray on their own time, or bring a Bible into school, or mention God in a valedictory address met with swift retribution for such offensive, threatening behavior.

Ten commandments monuments and crosses have been banished; local municipalities daring to place a manger scene representing the faith of thousands of their residents were sued when one person in another county complained. Not only in state education on all levels but in every realm of public life, we have dismissed our benevolent Creator, that powerful Friend as Benjamin Franklin called Him. In short, we as a society have lost the FEAR OF GOD.

That fear is not an abject, terrified cowering. It is a reverent devotion which recognizes the utterly pure righteousness of our Creator and Provider. When that fear of God permeated our culture, the broad daylight we call civilization was the norm. Now the gloomy dusk of anarchy is settling upon us – the consequence of our national godlessness.

One sort of a-Theism is an absurd core belief system which a tiny minority vainly tries to portray as free thought. The other sort is practised by multitudes who say in their hearts “there is no god.” In other words, they live day in and day out as though their Sovereign and Judge was not ever at hand, the unimaginable power of His just wrath withheld only by the unfathomable depths of His long-suffering mercy.

What fools we have been! As a man sows or as a nation sows, so shall he or it reap! Why do we marvel and burst out with phrases like “How can such things be happening in the 21st century?” “What is wrong with people?” “What on earth is going on these days?” Why do we describe the new normal of perpetrated horror, mayhem, and death using anemic terms like crazy…deranged…insane…disturbed?

Emotionally or mentally ill people speak and act incoherently. They exhibit confused, bizarre behavior. One imagines he can fly, another that he is Napoleon Bonaparte. Sang froid coupled with calculating intelligence plots to fly airplanes into buildings, drive trucks into crowds, and assassinate specific uniformed targets.

It is not wackiness, it is WICKEDNESS. It is not economic disparity, it is human DEPRAVITY! And as the late Rev. R.J. Cameron was wont to say, “mankind does not have a SKIN problem, we have a SIN problem!”

In what we know as the 59th chapter of the book of prophecy God gave through his servant Isaiah TRUTH is proclaimed with power…

“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.

For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue has muttered perversity. No one calls for justice, nor does any plead for truth. They trust in empty words and speak lies; they conceive evil and bring forth iniquity.

They hatch vipers’ eggs and weave the spider’s web; he who eats of their eggs dies, and from that which is crushed a viper breaks out. Their webs will not become garments, nor will they cover themselves with their works; their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands.

Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they have not known, and there is no justice in their ways; they have made themselves crooked paths; whoever takes that way shall not know peace.

Therefore justice is far from us, nor does righteousness overtake us; we look for light, but there is darkness! For brightness, but we walk in blackness! We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes; We stumble at noonday as at twilight; We are as dead men in desolate places.

We all growl like bears, and moan sadly like doves; we look for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before You, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and as for our iniquities, we know them:

In transgressing and lying against the LORD, and departing from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.

So truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. Then the LORD saw it, and it displeased Him That there was no justice…”

It will not go well with us if His displeasure is the end of the story. REPENT, America!

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