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Darrell Bock Responds to Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek Article on the Bible

Jan 14, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Bock

The following is a guest post by Dr. Darrell L. Bock. Dr. Bock serves as the Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and is the author of a two-volume commentary on Luke, a commentary on the book of Acts, along with books on The Da Vinci Code, challenges to the historical Jesus, and the claims of Bart Ehrman.

 

I let a week pass before deciding to write about Newsweek‘s latest take on the Bible, an article called “The Bible So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” by Kurt Eichenwald, a former investigative reporter for the New York Times. I have been asked about it by email. I have decided to go one section at a time through the article, so this will start a series of responses with four parts.

Now one thing not to do is be angry about it, treat it as a screed (since it clearly has a bias as it makes its “case”), and miss the fact that what is written here is how many are told the Bible works and what many who engage with the Bible today think about it. Since this is a national news magazine, a calm response of substance is needed.

Having said this, I do have to note that of my many experiences with national media, it has been consistently the case that Newsweek has been among the least responsible in handling issues tied to the Christian faith. The one exception to this was Jon Meachum, the former editor, whose articles did seek to raise issues with some sense of balance and respect for the complexities of doing work in ancient sources. My own Breaking the Da Vinci Code was written because of my frustration with a multiple-hour interview with the magazine’s reporters (two of them on separate occasions) where I pointed out well-known flaws with the novel’s alleged historical background claims that never got even a sentence’s mention. My story in this case was not isolated. They also interviewed my Catholic friend, Francis Moloney, Dean of the Catholic University at the time, who made the same points I did in interviews that ran an equal length. They did not print a word of what he said either. A series of witnesses to an opposite point of view apparently is not worth reporting.

Part of what we are seeing is not only the annual Christmas and Easter articles saying what Christianity has taught is not what “scholarly” history shows nor is it in the least bit credible, but it is done with a kind of tribalism in reporting that engages in complete silence about any counter perspective. In noting this, I am pointing to a trend that exists on all sides of these kinds of debates. The tribalism approach on all sides is part of what contributes to the historical and biblical illiteracy the article complains about in its opening. This problem runs across the idealogical spectrum of discussion on these issues. Unfortunately the article’s approach to this discussion is no antidote to that problem. In fact, it reinforces it.

PART 1:
ABOUT THE BIBLE’S TEXT

1.1. On Manuscripts

NSWKSo let’s go through this piece one issue at a time. Let’s start with what is said about the actual text we have. For this I could just cite the response of my colleague, Dan Wallace, who has spent his life investigating and photographing the very manuscript evidence this article raises as so untrustworthy. Dan correctly opens up saying the issue is not the fact that Eichenwald asks hard questions. The Bible makes such important claims, so such questions should be asked. It is the way he answers them that is the problem. Dan also shows how the nature of the issues Eichenwald makes about our manuscripts does not lead to Eichenwald’s conclusions. I leave the Textual Criticism side of the argument to Dan’s piece.

Eichenwald’s way in is to cite Bart Ehrman, whom he calls a ground-breaking New Testament scholar. Now Bart himself has said that what he writes is a reflection of current discussion that has been around a long time. He and I have debated over the radiom where he made this statement to me as something I was well aware of, something I also affirmed at the time. The views presented (including the appeal to the telephone game as Erhman’s illustration for how poorly copies were passed on) are but one take on these issues that are argued pro and con in the public scholarly square. This hardly makes him a ground-breaking source. Ehrman is a spokesperson, a very competent one, for one take on all of this. But the article even uses his material extremely selectively. Here is another quotation Ehrman makes on this topic: “Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.” What this means is that people on all sides recognize that what we have in the Bible, in terms of the core things it teaches, is a reflection of what made up these books originally. The caricature by Eichenwald that what we have in our hands has no resemblance to what was originally produced is misleading in the extreme, even considering the source the journalist uses to make his point.

1.2. On Supposed Problematic Texts: Luke 3:16

But there is more. This section of the article got my attention by an example it raised from Luke 3:16, a book in which I have spent my entire academic life. Eichenwald complains that the text has a literary problem in that John answers a question that the text never raises. He argues that the effort by later copyists in the fifth century to fix this conceptual problem in the text led some to attribute to John the Baptist an ability to read his audience’s mind that was not in the original. This example betrays two problems.

(1) If we cannot know what the original was, then how can we complain about the variant? How do we even know it is a variant? I say this somewhat facetiously, but it does raise an issue inherent in the discussion. Unless we have some sense of what the original is likely to have been (something all textual critics believe is something that can be pursued), we cannot even raise questions of assessment.

(2) Even more problematic is the literary insensitivity the objection has. In Luke 3:15 the crowd is speculating as a group that John the Baptist might be the Christ. There is a public-square question on the table. When the text says succinctly, John “answered,” it is not a specific question he is responding to (which is what Eichenwald thinks is required) but to the general and expressed speculation: a publicly raised question that opens the door for a reply. There is nothing at all problematic about the text as it stands.

1.3. On the Issues Tied to Orality: Is It the Telephone Game?

The area of discussion this section also raises has to do with how accounts were passed on in the ancient world when manuscript writing was rare and orality was the norm, in part because when it came to events, the accounts were rooted in those who were alive and could testify to what took place was valued in ancient culture, something Papias tells us in the second century.

The telephone game analogy (where such reports can go anywhere) has been countered by two other models: one rabbinic and the other community based. The rabbinic model shows that when a community cares about the content, it can pass it on and recall it with a high degree of accuracy. This passing on is overseen in a way that protects its core content from deviation. Although this is the main model put forward by some, it also has a problem in that the parallel accounts of what we have in Scripture when the same story is being told has enough variation in it that the exact standards this model implies are placed under some pressure.

This leads us to the second approach: the community model. The argument here is that accounts people care about are passed on in such a way that the core or gist is passed on but allowance is given for some variation of detail. The most revealing illustration of this is how Luke retells Jesus’ appearing to Saul on the Damascus Road in Acts 9, 22 and 26. We know this is the same author, yet he retells the same story with a touch of variation that keeps the story somewhat fresh and not merely a repeated, boring, retell. This shows, culturally and at a literary level, how such passing on of accounts works. Now either of these other examples point to the fact that the telephone game example is flawed in terms of ancient culture when discussing accounts about which ancients have an interest in passing something on.

1.4. On the Claim of a 400-Year Gap

Another problem is the claim that the gap we are discussing in terms of canonical recognition is a 400 year one. This is another, quite misleading, representation of what our ancient sources tells us. We know from Ireneaus in the late second century that the bulk of the New Testament was being used and recognized as central texts by the end of the second century. This is a full 250 years before the line Eichenwald draws. These central texts included the four gospels, Acts, the Pauline collection, as well as 1 Peter and 1 John. Even more important is that what Irenaeus was reporting on was something already in place when he was writing, so the actual gathering of these core texts is older than this. This emphasis is confirmed by Tatian’s Diatessaron, which is a harmony of the gospels called “through the Four” (which is what Diatessaron means). This work from the 170-180’s tells us what Irenaeus is saying about the establishment of the gospels as the core sources for Jesus by that time.

1.5. On Large Disputed Texts Like John 7:53-8:12

Now some of the points Eichenwald makes are a reflection of current discussion, but there still are features that need attention. In the examples even where he is right to raise the points he does, Eichenwald is not able to sustain the point he tries to make from those facts. An example of this, from this first section of his article, is the treatment of John 7:53-8:12. This issue is not exactly a revelation. Any work on textual criticism will use this example as one of several such situations in our manuscript record (the other famous one, he correctly notes, is Mark 16:9-20). I have written on both of these examples in my Jesus According to the Scriptures. Interestingly, almost any good Bible translation today will note these texts with sigla in the main text and a note. It is hardly the case that the “bad” translations Eichenwald says we have in our hands today have led us astray on the issues tied to the texts he notes.

What about John 7:53-8:12? It does seem likely that wherever the account of the woman caught in adultery came from, it was not originally in this spot in John’s gospel. What is fascinating about this example is how it is assessed. Bruce Metzger, probably the best-known American textual critic of the last century and Bart Ehrman’s mentor, says these two things about this text in his Textual Commentary on the New Testament (1971, pp. 219, 220). First he says, “The evidence of the non-Johannine origin of the pericope is overwhelming” (p. 219). Two paragraphs later he goes on to say this, “At the same time the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity” (p. 220). He points out that the fact that the account has shown up in various locations in our gospel manuscripts points to its wide and early circulation. None of this reflection appears in Eichenwald’s handling of this text. It severely undercuts the point he is trying to make from this material.

Conclusion on Part 1

That brings us to the end of the first section of the Newsweek piece. It does not bode well for the study as a whole. The fact is that the base text we have for our Bible, especially in the New Testament, is by far the best-attested ancient text we possess anywhere in the study of ancient sources. There ARE debates in spots, even many locations. Most good translations that have marginal notes point these out to readers of the Bible, so even the student of Scripture is made aware of these spots. None of those differences impact the overall teaching of the major doctrines of Scripture as a whole. What is impacted is how many texts make a point in support of a teaching or discussion over certain kinds of details in less central areas of teaching. Careful Bible students, whether conservatives or liberals, are aware of this and discuss those texts.

In the next three parts, we will take a look at the article one section at a time. So next I will address his handling of translation issues. On that topic I will speak as one who has worked on several translations of the Bible.

PART 2:
TRANSLATION AND CONSTANTINE

We now tackle the next section in Eichenwald’s article on Translation Issues and Constantine’s impact.

2.1 On Translation Differences

The reasons translations differ is not because Koine, as Eichenwald claims, can’t be expressed in English, but because (1) one has choices to make about some terms, (2) Greek order is more flexible than English (for NT), and (3) there are often a variety of ways to express the same idea (as translators often have good choices between synonyms). Beyond this, sometimes there is a real question on (4) how to best translate a term to get the contextual meaning and (5) there can be differences in the manuscripts that make a difference. There are cases where theological choices are made that have an influence, but this is not as common as Eichenwald suggests, nor even the main reason for most differences we see.

2.2 On the KJV

Eichenwald is right that the manuscript base for the KJV was not the best (based on what we now know). But this is another misleading direction. The translations we now have do a better job of getting us to that more original text (which I remind readers Eichenwald questions that we have access to but has to have some idea what it is to make his assessment of the KJV). More than that, even these differences have little impact on the major themes the Bible teaches.

2.3. On Philippians 2

Eichenwald engages in a selective use of the context to appeal to the idea the only issue in Philippians 2:6-11 is rendering “form” as image of God versus God. In fact, in context we have “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” and the structure of the whole passage is a reverse parabola. These contextual features are what a translator considers as he or she decides between possible rendering options, looking for the best specifically appropriate renderings for the given context. This is not manipulation for doctrinal reasons. It is reading the text with literary sensitivity.

2.4. On the Trinity

Eichenwald asks, “Where is there one text that points to it?” Matthew 28:20 has baptism—a sacred rite—in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Remember that Christianity grew out of a Jewish movement that held to one God. Matthew, the writer of this gospel, was a Jew. To attribute a religious rite in this manner is to point to divine authority and authorized action. The three persons bear equal authority here for the divine act.

2.5. On Massacres, Other Gospel Texts, and Constantine

This is another distorted presentation. Yes, Christians did battle to the death with those they regarded as heretics at certain points of history (though not in the earliest centuries) and sometimes it was over theology. Other times it was politics and ethnicity that was the issue, as is common today in contexts where religion is not in play. This is a regrettable feature of the church’s history. Eichenwald is correct to point it out.

2.6. Those Other Gospels

The suggestion that there were lots of texts out there kind of randomly chosen to make up the canon is another misleading discussion. The groups alluded to did exist and they did appeal to other texts, but these texts had less of a claim to be rooted in the origin of the movement than those in the canon. These groups were mostly in a minority and often represented a kind of syncretism (as was the case with Gnostics) that those who defended what became the canon felt was a severe distortion of the original faith.

Now it also is true that Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity did solidify the Christian movement and that power was wielded at times ruthlessly. Ruling in the ancient world was brutal business (as life in parts of the Middle East or Eastern Europe or parts of Africa or Asia are today). Its world is not our world. But Constantine had nothing to do with which books were accepted into the canon. The council of Niceae, the one Constantine called, did not even discuss the contents of the New Testament! This false presentation of history has continued to make the public rounds since The Da Vinci Code. It is best dropped as a historical claim. All such claims about the canon of the Bible and Constantine also ignore the evidence from Irenaeus that shows most books in our New Testament were being used and recognized 125 years before Constantine. This list includes the four gospels, Act, Paul’s letters, 1 Peter, and 1 John.

2.7. On the Arian Dispute and the Trinity

This is a well-known doctrinal dispute of the fourth century. As with many theological disputes, each side often can assemble texts to claim support for its views. However, the question is which view among the proposed options has the most widespread textual support. In the case of this dispute, the Christian idea emerging out of a monotheistic Judaism in the earliest Christian texts carried the weight. This included the ideas that (1) one could sit with God in heaven (as Jesus claimed), (2) share his divine authority in executing salvation (as Jesus claimed) and (3) be on the creator side of creator-creation discussions (see John 1:1-3; 1 Cor 8:4-6; the phrase “first born” in some texts speaks of rank, not biology, as the first born becomes king in a family dynasty, see Psalm 89:27).

These very early teachings led the council to opt for Jesus as God and not a creature. It was these texts Arians struggled to explain, causing them to lose the deliberations at the council. Eichenwald again selectively cites 1 Cor 8, noting God is called the Father and Jesus the Lord but ignores that this is a rewriting of the sacred Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4, which is the creedal statement of monotheistic Judaism and where both the idea of God and Lord are attached to the one Creator God.

Conclusion on Part 2

Eichenwald’s half statements run through the entire piece and leave a misimpression that his biblical evidence is strong. The key is found in the rest of the story Eichenwald fails to tell. Other places, such as the claim the doctrine relies on bad translation from John’s gospel, do not even state the objection to the orthodox view correctly. It is 1 John 5:7 with an explicit trinitarian remark that many question (probably appropriately) as not authentic. However, clear texts from the gospel of John with no dispute about manuscript readings or bad translations led to the affirmation of the doctrine as what Scripture teaches, as well as the themes noted already.

So this second section also yields little that can be sustained in terms of persuasive argumentation. It fails to appreciate how translations work and poorly reads the early history of the church. The one thing that is worth noting is that the violence tied to some events in the early church is something to be recognized, faced up to, and avoided.

Part 3:
CLAIMS OF CONTRADICTIONS

We now turn to the third section of the Newsweek article that makes various claims about contradictions in the New Testament.

3.1. On the Nativity

Yes, there are two stories of Jesus’s birth. These are not contradictions, as is claimed, but two perspectives on one event. Again, sensitive literary reading helps. Matthew is told from Joseph’s angle, while Luke is told from Mary’s. If you ask almost any couple how they came together, each will have their own take on what took place and select their own details with some overlap and some difference in the selection. One can play the stories against each other (Eichenwald’s take) or one can ask how they complement each other (our take). Now it is true that the traditional depiction of the Christmas story where we see shepherds and magi side by side is not likely what took place. Remember that when the magi showed up, Herod slew children two years and under. It is unlikely they showed up at the manger on the same night as the shepherds. The difference in the time frame produces the difference in detail. That is no contradiction.

3.2. On the Genealogies

The genealogies are another issue long discussed, going back to the second century. Yes, they differ and there are a variety of options noted. However, none of this connects to the objection about Jesus not being in the family of David, nor does it deal with the fact that Matthew makes clear as he tells the story that only Mary is biologically connected to the birth (through a clear Greek, textually undisputed feminine relative clause), as does Luke by speaking of supposed sonship to Joseph (Matt 1:16; Luke 3:23).

3.3. On Jesus’s Examination before Pilate

Literary insensitivity reappears again when Eichenwald compares Mark and John on Jesus’ examination by Pilate. The choice by one author (John) to provide more detail is presented as if it is a contradiction versus being a simple literary choice. His claim that the Romans are let off of the hook in the presentation as time moves along ignores that in John (the latter of the two sources) a judge (Pilate) who says the defendant is innocent still executes him. What kind of favorable portrayal of justice is that? Is that a favorable portrayal of the Romans and their style of rule?

3.4. On the Women Who Went to Anoint Jesus

Eichenwald works with a common formula among skeptics: difference equals contradiction. The trouble is that this ignores both literary choice and the depth that events possess in terms of what one can note. So Eichenwald observes that the lists of who went to anoint Jesus on the day he rose differ, without considering whether principal figures were named selectively in terms of the principals involved versus the option to give a fuller list.

3.5. On the Location of the Disciples after the Resurrection

In another example, Eichenwald asks us to choose between disciples in Galilee after the resurrection (with Matthew and John) versus their staying in Jerusalem alone (Luke). This claim ignores an important observation about the disciples’ original intent in going to Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified: they had come to Jersualem only to celebrate the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, planning to return after the 8 days of celebration. A decision to settle in Judea, which Luke affirms, required returning to Galilee (the disciples’ home) to make the move and prepare for more than an eight-day stay. Again, none of this real-life background to these accounts shows up in the flat, one-dimensional reading Eichenwald gives to these accounts. These details, embedded in the social, cultural, and historical background of the event, are the rest of the story Eichenwald’s collection of so-called contradictions ignores.

3.6. On Jesus Speaking about Hating Family

Here is another detail where the cultural background explains the remark. The public ministry of Jesus was dividing families pro and con. Some opposed him because they thought he was making excessive claims. If one wanted family approval, then in many instances that would lead to a decision not to follow Jesus. If one chose Jesus, he or she might lose relationships within the family. Jesus is alluding to this in his remarks, as well as making the point that ultimate loyalty lies with God. This point is made vividly and rhetorically by referring to hate. Jesus has other texts where he rebukes the Pharisees for using oaths not to care for family needs, showing his rhetorical intent in these remarks about hate.

3.7. On the Timing of the End

Once again Eichenwald builds a misleading presentation by only noting part of the evidence. Yes, Jesus did speak of this generation being involved in events tied to the end (while in part alluding to events that included the destruction of Jerusalem that did happen in 70, not forty years away). He also spoke of a tension within this hope. He taught that the time was near and yet being far enough away that some would not believe when the Son of Man returned (Luke 18:8). He also noted he did not know the time and said this timing was the Father’s business (Mark 13:32; Acts 1:6-7). So is this a contradiction as Eichenwald claims? Might it rather be a tension Jesus purposely introduces to argue the end is certain, with some things tied to it coming soon, and others long enough away that some will doubt because no one knows exactly when it will be? When difference (automatically) means contradiction, then you read this in the former way. But it is not the only option. Being aware of what these other texts teach on the same theme points to a different picture, unless you throw those texts out as not counting (in which case one can argue for just about anything when I can pick and choose what counts for evidence).

Conclusion to Part 3

On one thing in this area we agree with Eichenwald. These kinds of texts need to be discussed (and have been for a long time). Little of what he raises is new in terms of issues tied to discussion about what the Bible teaches. We also agree that pointing to these differences is not something that should make one angry with the person who raises questions about what is going on. The problem comes when only one solution is put forward when others clearly exist.

In the area of supposed contradictions, one needs to recognize what a difference of perspective can mean. One also needs to be sure not to operate with the formula that difference equals contradiction. On a theme like the end times, one needs to work with the many references in the Scripture and the fullness of texts that address a topic, not just proof text a passage on its own. Also one should be aware many of these differences have been discussed for a long time. Appreciate rhetorical expression and how it works. When all these literary factors are put in place, the texts make sense.

Part 4
MORE CLAIMS OF CONTRADICTIONS, OTHER ISSUES, AND CONCLUSION

We now come to the fourth and final part of my assessment of the Newsweek article on the Bible. It deals with more claims of contradictions, the role of women in Scripture, and homosexuality.

4.1. On Differing Creation Stories and the JE Theory

Again we see here the general skeptical formula difference equals contradiction is applied. It is not the only option. Genesis 1 is an overview account, as seen in its symmetry. Genesis 2 has more detail. This contention is an old one that prefers critical source theory to a sensitive literary reading that sees distinct ways of summarizing dependent on the form being literarily applied. Only a hyper-literal reading injects issues into this reading of the material.

4.2. On Wrestling with Dragons

Similar concerns about a lack of literary sensitivity has to do with the issue of wrestling with dragons. Biblical passages on God wrestling with dragons, where Scripture is responding to mythic images from the wider culture with its images of Leviathan, do appear in Scripture. This imagery portrays the cosmic, behind-the-scenes battle between God and the forces of evil that portray spiritual realities extending beyond our five senses. These are realities most of the world recognizes, even as many secular Westerners question their existence. Here is a worldview issue that is at the core of much debate on the Bible. Are spiritual forces real? Does God speak and act in the creation? Is there real good and evil in our world that is beyond our sensory perception? Important questions whose answers dictate how one also will see and assess the Bible.

4.3. Homosexuality

The discussion about the background of the Greek term again ignores historical and cultural background and is a kind of linguistic waving of a magic wand. According to the recognized Greek lexicon (p. 135) the term arsenokoitēs means “a male who engages in sexual activity w. a pers. of his own sex.” The Greek term is not even cited correctly in the Newsweek article, lacking a final sigma. In 1 Timothy 1:10 it is arsenokoitais. The word “homosexual” was an English word coined to say this in a more compact way. Yet this is what the term means. Add to this the Hebrew Scripture of what constituted acts that defiled as part of the background to its use here, then the term as having this force is accurate and contextually secure. Judaism of the time did not accept such practice.

We have been so critical of this article, it is important to note agreement with one key point made by Eichenwald on this issue. It is that the Bible does not rank sins. The 1 Timothy text has a list of many sins that are the subject of rebuke (so does Romans 1:29-31). Its claim is that we all sin and all need the forgiveness God offers. No one is immune from this need (Romans 3:9-31). Everyone needs God’s grace according to the Bible. All qualify for forgiveness being supplied by someone other than the one who has sinned. One of the tragic results of our culture’s turn against the Bible is its turning more of a blind eye to the need we all have to be humble before God and exercise care about the character we display, losing our sense of need for why God needs to graciously supply forgiveness to those who recognize they need what he supplies.

4.4. On the Role of Women in the Public Square: Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Claims of Inconsistency

As for Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin, no reading is more thin than the one Eichenwald offers here in saying if these Christian women believed the Bible, then these women should not speak on political issues. No text prohibits a woman from speaking out in terms of politics. The limits on women’s roles Scripture raises only discuss church contexts. The Bible has women who function as prophets and sources of commentary on events (Miriam, Hannah, Mary, Priscilla, and the four daughters of Philip come to mind).

However, Eichenwald is right that Romans 13 does teach us to pray for our leaders. This does not mean that leaders are immune from criticism (see Paul in 1 Cor 2), but it does mean one should engage in political discourse with more respect than some often show. Here is another relational point Eichenwald makes that is worthy of reflection.

4.5. On Law in Matthew, James, and Paul

As the list of issues with Scripture continues, Eichenwald turns his attention to the question whether the law should be followed or not. Here he argues Matthew (with James) does not agree with Paul. He argues that Matthew is for the continued use of the law, while Paul is against it. Again the citation of a verse without looking at the literary context makes the case look stronger than it is. The article needs to move beyond the kind of proof texting it also is complaining about among Bible believers. There is something different going on than the claim of contradiction.

What follows in the “fulfill the law” citation from Matthew is what is called the six antitheses, where Jesus makes the point that it is not the surface letter of the law that matters but the heart issue it raises. This heart focus is what one should pursue. So it is not murder but anger that is to be shunned. It is not adultery but lust that the law is encouraging us to avoid. It is not the making an oath to assure another of our truthfulness but being truthful. So Jesus is talking about fulfilling the law at that level, just as Paul also argues in Galatians 5. They actually agree with each other when we engage in a more comprehensive reading of these texts. Paul’s argument in Galatians (again only partially stated by Eichenwald) is not only that Jesus is the answer for fulfilling the law, but that this kind of newness of life and character concern is where Jesus and the Spirit work to take you in fulfillment of what the law was always about. Again a literarily sensitive reading yields a different conclusion than Eichenwald makes.

Especially misleading is the choice Eichenwald has that must one either follow the law or ignore it. Once again he has read the text one dimensionally. He has limited the options, and in the process ignored other possible configurations of how to deal with all of these texts. What one sees when one works with all of Scripture is a need we all have for God and the way he offers forgiveness. This way of pursuing God gives us access to something we cannot supply for ourselves. We agree with Eichenwald’s warning about the risk of being hypocrites, if we see ourselves as being inherently better than others. The Bible does warn about this, but the New Testament teaches one should care about how he or she lives, be aware we are all accountable to the Creator God who will render judgment one day, and claims the solution is found for all in the same person of messianic promise God has sent to tell us about forgiveness and life. It is here where what Jesus uniquely offers us in terms of forgiveness and life enters into the New Testament message of Scripture.

4.6. On Prayer as Performance

Eichenwald is both right and wrong in his claim that public prayer is to be avoided according to Jesus. What Jesus challenged was praying in public in a way that drew attention to the one who prayed. “My public prayer shows how pious I am” is the attitude Jesus challenges. Prayer that is prideful and self-serving is what Jesus is against.

But Jesus did pray in public when he fed the multitudes, as Eichenwald also observes. The Bible is full of accounts where the people of God gather to pray, even for national concerns. One can think of David’s call to national prayer in 1 Chronicle 16, Solomon’s dedication of the temple or the prayers of Nehemiah. Most of the Psalms are nothing but public prayers! 1 Timothy 2:1-8 speaks of prayer in every place for all people, calling such prayer good and welcome before God our Savior, including prayer for kings and emperors. Again to pick and choose which texts we use and which we ignore distorts what the Bible teaches, an important lack of balance in an article written to Americans about how they should think about the Bible.

Conclusion to Part 4 and the Whole Article: On Not Judging Both People and Scripture

The final exhortation in the article is to read the Bible and do so carefully. We could not agree more. That means not cherry picking out of it. That means reading all of it. That means appreciating the cultural and historical background as we have shown. It means reading it with literary sensitivity and rejecting an approach that too quickly says difference simply equals contradiction. It means reading Scripture as a whole carefully and accepting the way it challenges the way all of us live. The Bible often leads us into a spiritual self critique where God’s words can challenge us about how we live and lead us into living distinctly, humbly, lovingly in a pursuit of holiness that is as selfless as Jesus’ own offering of himself for our sin (Titus 2:11-14).

Our desire is to quickly say, as Eichenwald does, that we should be slow to judge another as Jesus taught. Yet here again the exhortation needs qualification in light of what Jesus actually taught. A closer look at that text says we should be serious about seeing the plank in our own eye before worrying about the speck in the eye of another. Jesus goes on to say do engage the brother after an honest self-examination. So Jesus’s point is not to avoid judging all together, but to do so with an awareness of one’s own need as well. What is needed by all is a conversation where we all recognize our shortcomings and need for God.

Maybe we should add that one should not be too quick to judge the Bible as well, a point Jesus also taught. The one who commanded love your neighbor as yourself also commanded love for God with all of your heart as a part of the greatest commandment. That means respecting God’s word and recognizing God’s right to make judgments about how we (should) live. It means letting the Scripture tell the story from an array of angles that should not be cancelled out by premature claims of contradiction. It means reading with a literary sensitivity that sees the scope of what a passage addresses and wrestles with the array of proposed options for how to read the text. This is how we understand the Bible and read it well so as not to sin.

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The Remorse of Abortion and the Healing of the Gospel: A Conversation with Lecrae, John Piper, and John Ensor

Jan 14, 2015 | Justin Taylor

This 37-minute conversation is worth your time. Lecrae sits down with John Piper and John Ensor (president of PassionLife, a gospel-centered pregnancy help ministry).

Lecrae shares about the time he drove his girlfriend to an abortion clinic in order to abort their child and what it was like to reveal this later to his wife and mother.

The three also talk about abortion in urban America, the charge that pro-lifers only care about marching and not actually helping women, and the connection between sanctify of human life and racial reconciliation.

You can purchase Lecrae’s song “Good, Bad, Ugly” here.

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Why Can’t We All Get Along? (Answer: A Conflict of Ideological Visions)

Jan 14, 2015 | Justin Taylor

a_conflict_of_visionsThomas Sowell’s Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles (2002) helps us think through worldview clashes and political partisanship. Sowell himself is an ideological partisan who writes to persuade readers of his vision. But this is an even-handed book—not written for purposes of advocacy, and not written from an explicitly Christian perspective, but written to help us understand some of the main contours of why there tend to be roughly two visions of the world when it comes to freedom, power, equality, justice, knowledge, and man.

Sowell explains the big idea in the first paragraph of the book:

One of the curious things about political opinions is how often the same people line up on opposite sides of different issues. The issues themselves may have no intrinsic connection with each other. They may range from military spending to drug laws to monetary policy to education. Yet the same familiar faces can be found glaring at each other from opposite sides of the political fence, again and again. It happens too often to be coincidence and it is too uncontrolled to be a plot.

A closer look at the arguments on both sides often shows that they are reasoning from fundamentally different premises. These different premises—often implicit—are what provide the consistency behind the repeated opposition of individuals and groups on numerous, unrelated issues. They have different visions of how the world works.

Why, at the end of the day, do we have such a hard time understanding one another across the political divide? Why can’t we find middle ground?

People now tend to look back and smile at Rodney King’s question in May of 1992, “Can we all just get along?” But it’s a serious question, and the reasons why we can’t are often very complex. But Sowell identifies a key part of the problem:

Whatever one’s vision, other visions are easily misunderstood—not only because of caricatures produced by polemics but also because the very words used (“equality,” “freedom,” “justice,” “power”) mean entirely different things in the context of different presuppositions. It is not mere misunderstanding but the inherent logic of each vision which leads to these semantic differences, as well as to substantively different conclusions across a wide spectrum of issues. Visions are inherently in conflict, quite aside form the misunderstandings, hostilities, or intransigence generated in the course of polemics. (pp. 245-246)

Sowell recognizes that there is a continuum of social visions—that sense of how the world works and the foundation upon which our theories are built. But for convenience, he identifies two broad and irreconcilable categories: the constrained vision and the unconstrained vision. Sowell identifies their basic difference as stemming from a different conception of the nature of man. So in successive chapters he looks at

  • the constrained vs. unconstrained vision of the nature of man,
  • the constrained vs. unconstrained vision of the nature of knowledge, and
  • the constrained vs. unconstrained vision of the nature of social processes.

Let’s look at an example. The way in which the unconstrained vision thinks about “results” determines the ways in which its advocates define and analyze key concepts like freedom, power, and equality. If results can be directly prescribed, and if basic concepts are expressed in terms of results, then we get something like the following:

The degree of freedom is . . . the degree to which one’s desires can be realized, without regard to whether the obstacles to full realization be the deliberately imposed restrictions of government or the lack of circumstantial prerequisites.

Power is likewise defined by results: If A can cause B to do what A wants done, then A has power over B, regardless of whether A‘s inducements to B are positive (rewards) or negative (penalties).

Equality too is a result, the degree of equality or inequality being a direct observable fact. (pp. 246-247)

All these basic terms are defined in profoundly different ways under the assumptions of the constrained vision. In that vision, man cannot directly create social results, but he can create social processes. Therefore, for the constrained visions basic concepts like freedom, justice, power, and equality get their significance and character from processes, whereas the unconstrained vision (as we saw) thinks of them mainly in terms of results. For example, in the constrained vision:

A social process has freedom to the extent that it refrains from interfering with the choices of individuals—whether or not the circumstances of those individuals provide them with many options or few.

A social process has justice to the extent that its rules are just, regardless of the variety of outcomes resulting from the application of those rules.

Power is exerted in social processes, by individuals or by institutions, to the extent that someone’s existing set of options is reduced—but is not an exertion of power to offer a quid pro quo that adds to his existing options.

Equality as a process characteristic means application of the same rules to all, without regard to individual antecedent conditions or subsequent results. (p. 247)

Sowell wisely writes:

The clash between the two visions is not over the actual or desirable degree of freedom, justice, power, or equality—or over the fact that that there can only be degrees and not absolutes—but rather over what these things consist of, in whatever degree they occur.

Sowell is one of the most eloquent advocates today for the constrained vision, but in this book he plays it straight, choosing to explain rather than to persuade. As such, it is not a Christian book per se, analyzing the various options in light of God’s word written. But I would still submit that it may be one of the most important books a Christian can read to understand what is going on in today’s culture when it comes to political struggles.

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Porn: Human Trafficking at Your Finger Tips

Jan 09, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Jeff Bethke:

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The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses?

Jan 09, 2015 | Justin Taylor

My conversation with Chris Bruno (PhD, Wheaton College) about his new book on tracing the storyline of Scripture in 16 verses.

bruno00:00 – How can you cover the whole story of the Bible in just 16 verses?
01:14 – Can you give us some examples from the book of how you do this?
04:22 – What is biblical theology and why is it important?
08:08 – How did your identity as a pastor, husband, and dad help you write this book?
12:15 – What do you hope the Lord accomplishes through this book?

Learn more about the book here.

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Watch This If You Want to See What Grace Looks Like

Jan 05, 2015 | Justin Taylor

This conversation between Russell Moore and Rosaria Butterfield is very encouraging, and it serves as a wonderful picture of grace in all of its multi-faceted glory: the grace of hospitality, the grace of forgiveness, the grace of transformation, and the grace of a brokenhearted boldness:

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The Law of Moses and the Christian: A Compromise

Jan 02, 2015 | Justin Taylor

A Q&A summary with David Dorsey’s essay, “The Law of Moses and the Christian: A Compromise,” JETS 34 (1991): 321-34:

What was the purpose or design of the law of Moses?

  1. The corpus was designed to regulate the lives of a people living in the distinctive geographical and climatic conditions found in the southern Levant, and many of the regulations are inapplicable, unintelligible, or even nonsensical outside that regime.
  2. The corpus was designed by God to regulate the lives of a people whose cultural milieu was that of the ancient Near East.
  3. The Mosaic corpus was intended to regulate the lives of people whose religious milieu was that of the ancient Near Eastern world (particularly Canaan) and would be more or less inapplicable outside that world.
  4. The code of laws was issued by God to lay the detailed groundwork for and regulate the various affairs of an actual politically- and geographically-defined nation.
  5. The corpus was formulated to establish and maintain a cultic regime that has been discontinued with the Church (cf. Heb 8:18; etc.).

Should the law be divided into three parts—moral, ceremonial, and civil—such that the ceremonial and civil have been fulfilled by Christ, but the moral continues on into today?

  1. The scheme of a tripartite division is unknown both in the Bible and in early rabbinic literature.
  2. The categorizing of certain selected laws as “moral” is methodologically questionable.
  3. The attempt to formulate this special category in order to “save” for NT Christians a handful of apparently universally-applicable laws—particularly the ones quoted in the NT—is an unnecessary effort. There is a more logical, Biblically supported approach to the law that retains for Christians not only the very heart of the so-called “moral” laws but also the underlying moral truths and principles, indeed the very spirit, of every one of the 613 laws.

What role does the Mosaic law play in the lives of Christians today?

“Having suggested that the Mosaic law in its entirety be removed from the backs of Christians in one sense, I would propose that the corpus be placed back into their hands in another sense: the entire corpus—not just the ‘moral’ laws but all 613—moral, ceremonial, civil. If on the one hand the evidence strongly suggests that the corpus is no longer legally binding upon Christians, there is equally strong evidence in the NT that all 613 laws are profoundly binding upon Christians in a revelatory and pedagogical sense.”

How then do we apply the OT laws to our own lives today?

“I would suggest the following theocentric hermeneutical procedure for applying any of the OT laws, whether the law be deemed ceremonial, judicial, or moral:

  1. Remind yourself that this law is not my law, that I am not legally bound by it, that it is one of the laws God issued to ancient Israel as part of his covenant with them.
  2. Determine the original meaning, significance, and purpose of the law.
  3. Determine the theological significance of the law.
  4. Determine the practical implications of the theological insights gained from this law for your own NT circumstances.”

For similar (though not identical) perspectives, see:

 

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Free on ChristianAudio: Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening

Jan 01, 2015 | Justin Taylor

If you don’t download this free resource, you will be starting your New Year as a backslider!

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Sing “All Glory Be to Christ” to the Tune of “Auld Lang Syne”

Dec 31, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Lyrics to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, from the album Joy Has Dawned by Kings Kaleidoscope:

Should nothing of our efforts stand
No legacy survive
Unless the Lord does raise the house
In vain its builders strive

To you who boast tomorrow’s gain
Tell me what is your life
A mist that vanishes at dawn
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign will ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

His will be done
His kingdom come
On earth as is above
Who is Himself our daily bread
Praise Him the Lord of love

Let living water satisfy
The thirsty without price
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign will ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

When on the day the great I Am
The faithful and the true
The Lamb who was for sinners slain
Is making all things new.

Behold our God shall live with us
And be our steadfast light
And we shall ere his people be
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign will ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

credits

from Joy Has Dawned, released 27 November 2012
Words by Dustin Kensrue, arrangement by Kings Kaleidoscope / © Dead Bird Theology (ASCAP), It’s All About Jesus Music (ASCAP)
HT: Dan Huff
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How to Read the Whole Bible in 2015

Dec 31, 2014 | Justin Taylor

esvdrbDo you want to read the whole Bible this year?

The average person reads 200 to 250 words per minute; there are about 775,000 words in the Bible; therefore it takes less than 10 minutes a day to read the whole Bible in a year.

(For those who like details, there’s a webpage devoted to how long it takes to read each book of the Bible. And if you want a simple handout that has every Bible book with a place to put a check next to every chapter, go here.)

Audio Bibles are usually about 75 hours long, so you can listen to it in just over 12 minutes a day.

But the point is not merely to read the whole thing to say you’ve done it or to check it off a list. The Bible itself never commands that we read the Bible through in a year. What it commends is knowing the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and meditating or storing or ruminating upon God’s self-disclosure to us in written form (Deut. 6:7; 32:46; Ps. 119:11, 15, 23, 93, 99; 143:5).

As Joel Beeke writes:

As oil lubricates an engine, so meditation facilitates the diligent use of means of grace (reading of Scripture, hearing sermons, prayer, and all other ordinances of Christ), deepens the marks of grace (repentance, faith, humility), and strengthens one’s relationships to others (love to God, to fellow Christians, to one’s neighbors at large).

Thomas Watson put it like this:

“A Christian without meditation is like a solider without arms, or a workman without tools. Without meditation the truths of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory is slippery, and without meditation all is lost.”

So reading the Bible cover to cover is a great way to facilitate meditation upon the whole counsel of God.

But a simple resolution to do this is often an insufficient. Most of us need a more proactive plan.

One option is to get a Bible that has a plan as part of its design. For example, Crossway offers the ESV Daily Reading Bible (based on the popular M’Cheyne reading plan—read through the OT once and the NT and Psalms twice) or the One-Year Bible in the ESV (whole Bible once in 364 readings). [For multiple bindings of the ESV Daily Reading Bible, go here.]

Stephen Witmer explains the weaknesses of typical plans and offers some advice on reading the Bible together with others—as well as offering his own new two-year plan. (“In my opinion, it is better to read the whole Bible through carefully one time in two years than hastily in one year.”) His plan has you read through one book of the Bible at a time (along with a daily reading from the Psalms or Proverbs). At the end of two years you will have read through the Psalms and Proverbs four times and the rest of the Bible once.

The Gospel Coalition’s For the Love of God Blog (which you can subscribe to via email, but is now also available as a free app) takes you through the M’Cheyne reading plan, with a meditation each day by D. A. Carson related to one of the readings. M’Cheyne’s plan has you read shorter selections from four different places in the Bible each day.

Jason DeRouchie, the editor of the user-friendly, Christ-centered book, What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible, offers his KINGDOM Bible Reading Plan, which has the following distinctives:

  • Proportionate weight is given to the Old and New Testaments in view of their relative length, the Old receiving three readings per day and the New getting one reading per day.
  • The Old Testament readings follow the arrangement of Jesus’ Bible (Luke 24:44—Law, Prophets, Writings), with one reading coming from each portion per day.
  • In a single year, one reads through Psalms twice and all other biblical books once; the second reading of Psalms (highlighted in gray) supplements the readings through the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy).
  • Only twenty-five readings are slated per month in order to provide more flexibility in daily devotions.
  • The plan can be started at any time of the year, and if four readings per day are too much, the plan can simply be stretched to two or more years (reading from one, two, or three columns per day).

Trent Hunter’s “The Bible-Eater Plan” is an innovative approach that has you reading whole chapters, along with quarterly attention to specific books. The plan especially highlights OT chapters that are crucial to the storyline of Scripture and redemptive fulfillment in Christ.

For those who would benefit from a realistic “discipline + grace” approach, consider “The Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers.” It takes away the pressure (and guilt) of “keeping up” with the entire Bible in one year. You get variety within the week by alternating genres by day, but also continuity by sticking with one genre each day. Here’s the basic idea:

Sundays: Poetry
Mondays: Penteteuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy)
Tuesdays: Old Testament history
Wednesdays: Old Testament history
Thursdays: Old Testament prophets
Fridays: New Testament history
Saturdays: New Testament epistles (letters)

There are a number of Reading Plans for ESV Editions. Crossway has made them accessible in multiple formats:

  • web (a new reading each day appears online at the same link)
  • RSS (subscribe to receive by RSS)
  • podcast (subscribe to get your daily reading in audio)
  • iCal (download an iCalendar file)
  • mobile (view a new reading each day on your mobile device)
  • print (download a PDF of the whole plan)
Reading Plan Format
Chronological
Through the Bible chronologically (from Back to the Bible)
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Daily Light on the Daily Path
Daily Light on the Daily Path – the ESV version of Samuel Bagster’s classic
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Daily Office Lectionary
Daily Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospels
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Daily Reading Bible
Daily Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
ESV Study Bible
Daily Psalms or Wisdom Literature; Pentateuch or the History of Israel; Chronicles or Prophets; and Gospels or Epistles
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Every Day in the Word
Daily Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Literary Study Bible
Daily Psalms or Wisdom Literature; Pentateuch or the History of Israel; Chronicles or Prophets; and Gospels or Epistles
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
M’Cheyne One-Year Reading Plan
Daily Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms or Gospels
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Outreach
Daily Old Testament, Psalms, and New Testament
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Outreach New Testament
Daily New Testament. Read through the New Testament in 6 months
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Through the Bible in a Year
Daily Old Testament and New Testament
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email

You can also access each of these Reading Plans as podcasts:

  • Right-click (Ctrl-click on a Mac) the “RSS” link of the feed you want from the above list.
  • Choose “Copy Link Location” or “Copy Shortcut.”
  • Start iTunes.
  • Under File, choose “Subscribe to Podcast.”
  • Paste the URL into the box.
  • Click OK.

For those looking for some books to have on hand as “helps” as you read through the Bible, here are a few suggestions:

For special attention to seeing Christ in the Old Testament, note in particular:

Another helpful tool to have on hand is something like the ESV Concise Bible Atlas.

David Murray has provides Bible reading plans for children.

Also remember that if you go to the ESV Bible site, there’s an audio button that allows you to listen to the whole Bible free of charge.

For helping children trace the storyline of Scripture, two classics are:

Note that with the Helm book, Crossway has now released a whole set of corresponding materials in the series: including an innovative Scripture memory/catechism of redemptive history, a free audio book, and a family devotional.

But be on the lookout this summer for a new storybook Bible that contains the whole storyline in one continuous narrative with extremely compelling and creative art: Kevin DeYoung’s The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden (with illustrations by Don Clark of Invisible Creature).

Finally, for some practical help with prayer, consider Kathi Westlund’s Prayer PathWay resource and the app PrayerMate.

As you read through the Bible, here’s a chart you may want to to print out and have on hand. It’s from Goldsworthy’s book According to Plan. It simplified, of course, but it can be helpful in locating where you’re at in the biblical storyline and seeing the history of Israel “at a glance.”

Goldsworthy’s outline is below. You can also download this as a PDF (posted with permission).

Screen shot 2009-12-23 at 10.34.55 PM

Taken from According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible by Graeme Goldsworthy. Copyright(c) Graeme Goldsworthy 1991. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515 (www.ivpress.com) and Inter-Varsity Press, Norton Street, Nottingham NG7 3HR England (www.ivbooks.com)

Creation by Word Genesis 1 and 2
The Fall Genesis 3
First Revelation of Redemption Genesis 4-11
Abraham Our Father Genesis 12-50
Exodus: Our Pattern of Redemption Exodus 1-15
New Life: Gift and Task Exodus 16-40; Leviticus
The Temptation in the Wilderness Numbers; Deuteronomy
Into the Good Land Joshua; Judges; Ruth
God’s Rule in God’s Land 1 and 2 Samuel; 1 Kings 1-10; 1 Chronicles; 2 Chronicles 1-9
The Fading Shadow 1 Kings 11-22; 2 Kings
There Is a New Creation Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Daniel; Esther
The Second Exodus Ezra; Nehemiah; Haggai
The New Creation for Us Matthew; Mark; Luke; John
The New Creation in Us Initiated Acts
The New Creation in Us Now New Testament Epistles
The New Creation Consummated The New Testament

Below are Goldsworthy’s summaries of each section.

Creation by Word
Genesis 1 and 2
In the beginning God created everything that exists. He made Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden of Eden. God spoke to them and gave them certain tasks in the world. For food he allowed them the fruit of all the trees in the garden except one. He warned them that they would die if they ate of that one tree.

The Fall
Genesis 3
The snake persuaded Eve to disobey God and to eat the forbidden fruit. She gave some to Adam and he ate also. Then God spoke to them in judgment, and sent them out of the garden into a world that came under the same judgment.

First Revelation of Redemption
Genesis 4-11
Outside Eden, Cain and Abel were born to Adam and eve. Cain murdered Abel and Eve bore another son, Seth. Eventually the human race became so wicked that God determined to destroy every living thing with a flood. Noah and his family were saved by building a great boat at God’s command. The human race began again with Noah and his three sons with their families. Sometime after the flood a still unified human race attempted a godless act to assert its power in the building of a high tower. God thwarted these plans by scattering the people and confusing their language.

Abraham Our Father
Genesis 12-50
Sometime in the early second millennium BC God called Abraham out of Mesopotamia to Canaan. He promised to give this land to Abraham’s descendants and to bless them as his people. Abraham went, and many years later he had a son, Isaac. Isaac in rum had two sons, Esau and Jacob. The promises of God were established with Jacob and his descendants. He had twelve sons, and in time they all went to live in Egypt because of famine in Canaan.

Exodus: Our Pattern of Redemption
Exodus 1-15
In time the descendants of Jacob living in Egypt multiplied to become a very large number of people. The Egyptians no longer regarded them with friendliness and made them slaves. God appointed Moses to be the one who would lead Israel out of Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. When the moment came for Moses to demand the freedom of his people, the Pharaoh refused to let them go. Though Moses worked ten miracle-plagues which brought hardship, destruction, and death to the Egyptians. Finally, Pharaoh let Israel go, but then pursued them and trapped them at the Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds). The God opened a way in the sea for Israel to cross on dry land, but closed the water over the Egyptian army, destroying it.

New Life: Gift and Task
Exodus 16-40; Leviticus
After their release from Egypt, Moses led the Israelites to Mount Sinai. There God gave them his law which they were commanded to keep. At one point Moses held a covenant renewal ceremony in which the covenant arrangement was sealed in blood. However, while Moses was away on the mountain, the people persuaded Aaron to fashion a golden calf. Thus they showed their inclination to forsake the covenant and to engage in idolatry. God also commanded the building of the tabernacle and gave all the rules of sacrificial worship by which Israel might approach him.

The Temptation in the Wilderness
Numbers; Deuteronomy
After giving the law to the Israelites at Sinai, God directed them to go in and take possession of the promised land. Fearing the inhabitants of Canaan, they refused to do so, thus showing lack of confidence in the promises of God. The whole adult generation that had come out of Egypt, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, was condemned to wander and die in the desert. Israel was forbidden to dispossess its kinsfolk, the nation of Edom, Moab, and Ammon, but was given victory over other nations that opposed it. Finally, forty years after leaving Egypt, Israel arrived in the Moabite territory on the east side of the Jordan. Here Moses prepared the people for their possession of Canaan, and commissioned Joshua as their new leader.

Into the Good Land
Joshua; Judges; Ruth
Under Joshua’s leadership the Israelites crossed the Jordan and began the task of driving out the inhabitants of Canaan. After the conquest the land was divided between the tribes, each being allotted its own region. Only the tribe of Levi was without an inheritance of land because of its special priestly relationship to God. There remained pockets of Canaanites in the land and, from time to time, these threatened Israel’s hold on their new possession. From the one-man leaderships of Moses and Joshua, the nation moved into a period of relative instability during which judges exercised some measure of control over the affairs of the people.

God’s Rule in God’s Land
1 and 2 Samuel; 1 Kings 1-10; 1 Chronicles; 2 Chronicles 1-9
Samuel became judge and prophet in all Israel at a time when the Philistines threatened the freedom of the nation. An earlier movement for kingship was received and the demand put to a reluctant Samuel. The first king, Saul, had a promising start to his reign but eventually showed himself unsuitable as the ruler of the covenant people. While Saul still reigned, David was anointed to succeed him. Because of Saul’s jealousy David became an outcast, but when Saul died in battle David returned and became king (about 1000 BC). Due to his success Israel became a powerful and stable nation. He established a central sanctuary at Jerusalem, and created a professional bureaucracy and permanent army. David’s son Solomon succeeded him (about 961 BC) and the prosperity of Israel continued. The building of the temple at Jerusalem was one of Solomon’s most notable achievements.

The Fading Shadow
1 Kings 11-22; 2 Kings
Solomon allowed political considerations and personal ambitions to sour his relationship with God, and this in turn had a bad effect on the life of Israel. Solomon’s son began an oppressive rule which led to the rebellion of the northern tribes and the division of the kingdom. Although there were some political and religious high points, both kingdoms went into decline, A new breed of prophets warned against the direction of national life, but matters went from bad to worse. In 722 BC the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the power of the Assyrian empire. Then, in 586 BC the southern kingdom of Judah was devastated by the Babylonians. Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed, and a large part of the population was deported to Babylon.

There Is a New Creation
Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Daniel; Esther
The prophets of Israel warned of the doom that would befall the nation. When the first exiles were taken to Babylon in 597 BC, Ezekiel was among them. Both prophets ministered to the exiles. Life for the Jews (the people of Judah) in Babylon was not all bad, and in time many prospered. The books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel indicate a certain normality to the experience, while Daniel and Esther highlight some of the difficulties and suffering experienced in an alien and oppressive culture.

The Second Exodus
Ezra; Nehemiah; Haggai
In 539 BC Babylon fell to the Medo-Persian empire. The following year, Cyrus the king allowed the Jews to return home and to set up a Jewish state within the Persian empire. Great difficulty was experienced in re-establishing the nation. There was local opposition to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple. Many of the Jews did not return but stayed on in the land of their exile. In the latter part of the fourth century BC, Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire. The Jews entered a long and difficult period in which Greek culture and religion challenged their trust in God’s covenant promises. In 63 BC Pompey conquered Palestine and the Jews found themselves a province of the Roman empire.

The New Creation for Us
Matthew; Mark; Luke; John
The province of Judea, the homeland of the Jews, came under Roman rule in 63 BC. During the reign of Caesar Augustus, Jesus was born at Bethlehem, probably about the year 4 BC. John, known as the Baptist, prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus. This ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing began with Jesus’ baptism and lasted about three years. Growing conflict with the Jews and their religious leaders led eventually to Jesus being sentenced to death by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. He was executed by the Romans just outside Jerusalem, but rose from death two days afterward and appealed to his followers on a number of occasions. After a period with them, Jesus was taken up to heaven.

The New Creation in Us Initiated
Acts
After Jesus had ascended, his disciples waited in Jerusalem. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon them and they began the task of proclaiming Jesus. As the missionary implications of the gospel became clearer to the first Christians, the local proclamation was extended to world evangelization. The apostle Paul took the gospel to Asia Minor and Greece, establishing many churches as he went. Eventually a church flourished at the heart of the empire of Rome.

The New Creation in Us Now
New Testament Epistles
As the gospel made inroads into pagan societies it encountered many philosophies and non-Christian ideas which challenged the apostolic message. The New Testament epistles shows that the kind of pressures to adopt pagan ideas that had existed for the people of God in Old Testament times were also a constant threat to the churches. The real danger to Christian teaching was not so much in direct attacks upon it, but rather in the subtle distortion of Christian ideas. Among the troublemakers were the Judaizers who added Jewish law-keeping to the gospel. The Gnostics also undermined the gospel with elements of Greek philosophy and religion.

The New Creation Consummated
The New Testament
God is Lord over history and therefore, when he so desires, he can cause the events of the future to be recorded. All section of the New Testament contain references to things which have not yet happened, the most significant being the return of Christ and the consummation of the kingdom of God. No clues to the actual chronology are given, but it is certain that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. The old creation will be undone and the new creation will take its place.

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The Story of Pain and Hope Behind “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

Dec 21, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 9.05.31 AM

In March of 1863, 18-year-old Charles Appleton Longfellow walked out of his family’s home on Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and—unbeknownst to his family—boarded a train bound for Washington, DC., over 400 miles away, in order to join President Lincoln’s Union army to fight in the Civil War.

Charles (b. June 9, 1844) was the oldest of six children born to Fannie Elizabeth Appleton and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the celebrated literary critic and poet. Charles had five younger siblings: a brother (aged 17) and three sisters (ages 13, 10, 8—another one had died as an infant).

Less than two years earlier, Charles’s mother Fannie had died from a tragic accident when her dress caught on fire. Her husband, awoken from a nap, tried to extinguish the flames as best he could, first with a rug and then his own body, but she had already suffered severe burns. She died the next morning (July 10, 1861), and Henry Longfellow’s facial burns were severe enough that he was unable even to attend his own wife’s funeral. He would grow a beard to hide his burned face and at times feared that he would be sent to an asylum on account of his grief.

When Charley (as he was called) arrived in Washington D.C. he sought to enlist as a private with the 1st Massachusetts Artillery. Captain W. H. McCartney, commander of Battery A, wrote to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for written permission for Charley to become a solider. HWL (as his son referred to him) granted the permission.

Longfellow later wrote to his friends Charles Sumner (senator from Massachusetts), John Andrew (governor of Massachusetts), and Edward Dalton (medical inspector of the Sixth Army Corps) to lobby for his son to become an officer. But Charley had already impressed his fellow soldiers and superiors with his skills, and on March 27, 1863, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, assigned to Company “G.”

After participating on the fringe of the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia (April 30-May 6, 1863), Charley fell ill with typhoid fever and was sent home to recover. He rejoined his unit on August 15, 1863, having missed the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863).

1868

1868

While dining at home on December 1, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow received a telegram that his son had been severely wounded four days earlier. On November 27, 1863, while involved in a skirmish during a battle of of the Mine Run Campaign, Charley was shot through the left shoulder, with the bullet exiting under his right shoulder blade. It had traveled across his back and skimmed his spine. Charley avoided being paralyzed by less than an inch.

He was carried into New Hope Church (Orange County, Virginia) and then transported to the Rapidan River. Charley’s father and younger brother, Ernest, immediately set out for Washington, D.C., arriving on December 3. Charley arrived by train on December 5. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was alarmed when informed by the army surgeon that his son’s wound “was very serious” and that “paralysis might ensue.” Three surgeons gave a more favorable report that evening, suggesting a recovery that would require him to be “long in healing,” at least six months.

On Christmas day, 1863, Longfellow—a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself—wrote a poem seeking to capture the dynamic and dissonance in his own heart and the world he observes around him. He hears the Christmas bells and the singing of “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14) but observes the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truth of this statement. The theme of listening recurs throughout the poem, leading to a settledness of confident hope even in the midst of bleak despair.

You can read the whole thing below:


I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,

and wild and sweet
The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along
The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound
The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn
The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

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John Piper: 16 Thoughts on Thinking and Discussing Race and Christ

Dec 18, 2014 | Justin Taylor

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I found these suggestions, observations, and reflections by John Piper very helpful:

  1. Preempt the next newsflash with prior teaching on how God views race.
  2. Proactively instill biblical categories so that your people are not limited to the political and ideological categories of the media.
  3. The command of Jesus to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) is universally relevant and deeply transforming.
  4. Christ-exalting, Spirit-given heart-change, attitude-change, and relational-change are linked essentially.
  5. Christians should care about changed lives and changed laws.
  6. Don’t expect remedies from secular institutions that can’t even name the disease.
  7. Beware of saying that the condition of society is the report card of the church.
  8. Ethnic and religious conflict is intensifying globally.
  9. Beware of false alternatives: Assimilation vs. Balkanization.
  10. Never drive a wedge between the call for personal responsibility and structural change.
  11. Common grace calls for reflection and celebration over ways police can do better.
  12. One flesh-and-blood relationship with another ethnicity is worth a hundred conferences and panels and books.
  13. Generalizations from specifics are necessary for life, but we need not act on our stereotypes.
  14. Cultivate coronary Christians, not adrenaline Christians.
  15. Racism is part of the seamless fabric of sin in human life.
  16. Only the gospel of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, severs the roots that feed racism.

Go here to read an explanation for each one.

Piper’s book, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian, is now 61% off at WTS for a limited time.

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How to Use the Back of a Napkin to Prove to a Jehovah’s Witness That Jesus Is God

Dec 17, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Years ago I read the following simple but effective illustration from Greg Koukl on how to use a napkin, a pen, and a Bible verse to show a Jehovah’s Witness that Scripture teaches (even in their own translation) that Jesus must be God. Greg, who is the president of Stand to Reason and the author of one of my favorite books on reasoning with unbelievers, kindly granted permission to reprint the explanation below. I hope you find it helpful.


 

Understanding the Trinity may be impossible, but proving that the Trinity is scriptural is not an especially difficult task. One needs only to define the Trinity accurately, then show that the Bible teaches the details of the definition. It makes no difference whether the word “Trinity” appears in the text or not. It only matters if the doctrine is taught there.

The definition of the Trinity is straightforward: there is only one God and He subsists as three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. One God in three persons. Simple.

How to Prove the Trinity

If you want to prove the Trinity, then, all you need to do is show that three specific truths are taught in Scripture. First, there’s only one God. Second, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are truly distinct persons. Third, each has the essential attribute of deity. That’s it.

The first item–the oneness of God–is virtually uncontested by those challenging the Trinity on Scriptural grounds. Almost all who hold Scripture in high regard acknowledge the famous Shema of Deuteronomy 6:1, “”Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! ”

The second, that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are truly distinct persons, is denied by modalists like Oneness Pentecostals. They hold there is one God who manifests Himself in different “modes” at different times, sometimes as the Father and sometimes as the Son. The popular illustration of the Trinity that a man can be a father to his son yet, in other modes, a husband to his wife and a brother to his siblings is a fine illustration of this second-century heresy, and not the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. In this view the Father and the Son are both fully God, but there is no genuine distinction between the persons, only a linguistic distinction.

The third, that the distinct persons are each fully God, is denied by Arians like Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jesus and the Father are distinct persons, they say, but do not share the essential attribute of deity. Only the Father is God. Jesus is a lesser, created “god.”

The Irrefutable Argument

My purpose is to answer the Arian challenge by giving an airtight, scriptural proof for the deity of Jesus Christ. This technique is so simple you should be able to sketch it out on a napkin from memory the next time someone knocks on your door. Remember, you don’t have to master every counter-argument to every verse thrown at you. All you need is one unequivocal textual proof to make your case. Here it is. It comes from the Gospel of John.

Most discussions of this nature focus initially on John 1:1. It says,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

That’s the way your Bible reads.

But the Jehovah’s Witness’s New World Translation renders the verse this way:

“In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”

The heated discussion that follows is almost never productive. Don’t waste your time wrestling with Greek grammar neither of you understand.

Just drop down two verses. Verse three says,

“All things came into being by Him [the Word], and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

The NWT is virtually the same:

“All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.”

Have your visitor read the verse out loud. Then take out a napkin or a piece of scratch paper and draw a large box. Explaining that this box represents everything that exists. Run a line right through the middle of the box, dividing everything that exists into two categories. It will look something like this:

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On the left side write “all things that never came into being,” that is, all things that exist but have never been created.

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Ask your friend, “What goes in that box?” If he says “God” he got the right answer. God is the only thing that exists that has never been created. God alone is eternal and uncreated. Put the word “God” in the left-hand side of your box.

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Label the right side “all things that came into being,” that is, all created things.

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Write “all created things” there.

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Everything in this box was created through Jesus, according to verse three. Ask your friend if he understands that.

Now write “created through Jesus” outside the box and run an arrow to the right side. Your box should now look something like this:

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Take a moment to point out to your guest how this illustration is structured. The larger box includes everything there is, was or ever will be. Each particular existent falls into one of two categories: created or not created.

According to the law of excluded middle either a thing was created or it wasn’t created—there is no third option—so the categories are all-encompassing.

According to the law of noncontradiction a thing can’t be both created and not created, so the categories are mutually exclusive. Any particular thing has to be one or the other. It’s very simple.

Next you’re going to determine what category Jesus belongs in. Take a coin out of your pocket.

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Tell your guest this coin represents Jesus Christ. Hand him the coin and ask him to place Jesus in the category where He belongs.

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The first impulse of a Jehovah’s Witness, of course, is to place Jesus in the category of “all things that came into being” because that’s what their theology dictates. In keeping with the teaching of Arius in the early fourth century, there was a time “when the Word was not.” Jesus was the first created being and everything else was created by Jehovah through Jesus.

But John 1:3 doesn’t allow that option. Look at the wording carefully. John says,

“All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being,”

or in the NWT,

“…and apart from him not even one thing came into existence” (emphasis mine).

John says the same thing two different ways for emphasis and clarity: everything that ever came into being owes its existence to Jesus, who caused it all to happen. If Jesus caused all created things to come into existence, then He must have existed before all created things came into existence. Therefore, the Word could not have been created.

In other words, if Jesus created everything that has come into being, and Jesus also came into being (as they contend), then Jesus created Himself. He would have to exist as Creator before He existed as a created thing, which is absurd. Therefore, Jesus can’t be placed in the square labeled, “all things that came into being.”

Just a side note. Much is made of the Greek word dia, translated “by” in the first phrase, but can also be translated “through.” But it makes no difference whether all things were created “by” Jesus or “through” Jesus with Jehovah as the agency (as the Witnesses suggest). The point is that in either case Jesus is existing before the creation of all things that ever came into being.So, the coin can’t be placed on the right. At this point your visitor may want to place Jesus somewhere on the paper outside the larger box. But, as we’ve seen, you can’t do that. These categories are all-encompassing and mutually exclusive; there’s no “place” outside to put Him.

Everything goes on one side of the larger box or the other.

If Jesus can’t be placed on the right side with created things, then He must go on the left with uncreated things, identifying Jesus as the uncreated Creator. Jesus is God.

Two Rejoinders

I have only come across two rejoinders to this proof for Jesus’ deity. Each is so weak it merely serves to bolster our argument.

Rejoinder #1

The first goes something like this.

“Wait a minute, Greg. You didn’t read the verse carefully. You missed something in the text. Notice the phrase ‘apart from Him.’ The apostle excludes Jesus from the count in this verse. If you said, ‘Apart from Billy, the whole family is going to Disneyland’ you wouldn’t mean that Billy wasn’t part of the family, just that he wasn’t included in the count. Every member of the family is going to Disneyland with the exception of Billy. In the same way, every created thing was created by Jesus with the exception of Jesus Himself. Jehovah created Jesus first, then Jesus created everything else.”

Note that this rebuttal turns on the ability to replace “apart from Him” with the phrase “excluding Jesus.” Allegedly they’re synonymous.

OK, let’s try the replacement and see what happens. The verse then looks like this: “With the exception of Jesus, nothing came into being that has come into being.”

If your brow is furrowed trying to figure this out, I’m not surprised. The reconstructed phrase is nearly nonsense. Strictly speaking, it means that Jesus is the only created thing that exists.

Read it again and see for yourself. Obviously, the phrase “apart from Jesus” can’t mean “with the exception of Jesus.” These phrases are not synonymous.

“Apart from Him” means something entirely different. It means “apart from His agency.” It’s the same as saying, “Apart from me you’ll never get to San Diego. I’ve got the car.” Apart from Jesus’ agency nothing came into being that has come into being. Why? Because Jesus is the Creator. He is God. That makes perfect sense in the context.

Rejoinder #2

The second attempt at refutation comes from a handful of more sophisticated Arians who know better than to lean on the bent reed of the first rejoinder. They go back to the opening phrase “In the beginning” and note that it is anarthrous, that is, it has no article in the original Greek. Since John merely writes “In beginning” he could be meaning “in a beginning.”

Jehovah created Jesus, the story goes, at some indeterminate time in the past. Then after some unspecified second beginning (“a beginning”), He created everything else through Jesus. The details of verse three apply only to what happens after this second beginning. That’s the argument.

This grasping-at-the-wind is an example of what I call “Bedtime Story.” Here the detractor tells a story to put your argument to rest, but like all mere stories there is no foundation in fact. Nothing in the details of the text itself suggests this alternate translation. In fact, even the NWT renders it accurately.

Further, it strains at a gnat and swallows a camel. A focus on the gnat in verse one misses the camel two verses later. The phrases “all things” and “nothing” in verse three admit of no time restrictions. The only alternate “facts” available are found in the wishful thinking of those whose theology demands another reading. It’s clear from the text that Jesus is God.

Parrying the Counter-Attack

Objections that Jesus is distinguished from the Father in other passages (as when He prays to the Father in John 17) merely bolster our defense of the Trinity.

Agreed, Jesus is not the Father. Jesus can talk to the Father because each is a separate person, but as Creator, Jesus shares the same divine essence as the Father. Remember our definition: there is only one God and He subsists as three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Obviously, then we’d expect to find evidence of personal interaction among each of them.

Remember, don’t let your guest play “What About?” and drag you all over the New Testament. Keep bringing the issue back to John 1:3. All other verses must be understood in light of the unmistakable fact that Jesus is the uncreated Creator.

One parting thought. This exercise also resolves the translation controversy of verse one. Is the Word fully God or merely “a god”? John’s teaching in verse three makes unmistakable the intent of his opening remark:

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

And that settles it.

Yours for the truth,

Gregory Koukl
President, Stand to Reason

This technique is so simple you should be able to sketch it out on a napkin from memory the next time someone knocks on your door.

Don’t waste your time wrestling with Greek grammar neither of you understand.

If Jesus caused all created things to come into existence, then He must have existed before all created things came into existence.

Remember, don’t let your guest play “What About?” and drag you all over the New Testament. Keep bringing the issue back to the unmistakable fact that Jesus is the uncreated Creator.

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Trailer for a New Documentary on Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Dec 17, 2014 | Justin Taylor

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