Sermon Series of Note – Joseph & the Gospel of Many Colours

Going through the story of Joseph (of the Musical fame, not the musical Fame) in the book of beginnings – Genesis, a whole range of questions arise.

What is going on here? What kind of family does Joseph come from? Why does he bear no ill to those who caused him so much ill to bear? What was God up to in this most bizarre of stories?

I had heard of a series of sermons (which led to a book) that counters the many conclusions of what might be considered a traditional teaching of the Joseph story. Joseph the hero. The one who prospered at the hands of Egypt’s Pharaoh. God’s man – who found favour in enemy territory. What he did, perhaps we can do too (within reason). So I tracked it down.

Well it is a good series, very worthwhile and illuminating. warmly delivered by a big man. It has helped me understand the importance of trajectory identification when reading the books, lives, events of the Old Testament. As a former Roman Catholic, I was not schooled much in Old Testament characters – their lives, loves and losses. So while there is relatively little to unlearn, there are still so many things to learn about how to read the Old Testament.

So I commend this series to all and especially to the brethren and sistren (is that a word?) working through Joseph in Genesis at church at the mo.

The first sermon ‘How to read the story’ is particularly strong and similarly the second. Three and four are heavy on application and that is no bad thing. All can be found by clicking the correct question mark. See if you can guess which one!

 

 

 

 

Trinity on Thursday – Trinitarian and Unitarian Debate

Here is a debate hosted on a Unitarian (non and anti-trinitarian) website that took place sometime in the mid 2000’s between Professor Anthony Buzzard (real name) and Dr. Fred Sanders. Is God one person or three? The sound quality is not brilliant. There  is a transcript available somewhere and I will post that next week.

For image source go to donaldsweblog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/follow-directions.html

Click the image for the debate

The Trinity on Thursday – Time, Trinity and Text

A common objection from some of my muslim friends is that the doctrine of the Trinity stems solely from one place in the Bible – 1 John 5:7.

John

In the King James version (KJV) of the Bible – there is a piece of text which is super trinitarian in its implications – except it shouldn’t be there. That’s why it is in the KJV as above but not in the New International Version (NIV) or most others for that matter. Many though not all Muslims think that this piece of text, this verse, is the sole reason Christians declare that God is Triune – Three co-eternal and co-equal persons in the one being of God. This is a strong objection.

Let’s think about that argument and it’s implications. It would mean that in the earliest centuries to support the errant teaching of the Trinity idea – someone inserted this bogus text into the Holy Bible. No insertion into the text and there would have been no Trinity and certainly no scriptural warrant for being trinitarian. But  the argument goes, it was inserted and that’s why we have the doctrine of the Trinity.

But this is simply not the case. The verse no where to be seen in any greek text, appeared in the body of the text no earlier than the 15th century and only as a margin note – a schema of understanding, a devotional piece some time before that. No where near the earliest centuries of the church. And the understanding of the divinity of the Son and the Spirt was emerging very early on in the christian community, being described at the end of the second century using the word Trinity. No where near the time of this textual insertion.

time

For source click the image

And another thing I am a trinitarian Christian because I seek to read the whole Bible fairly and carefully and I actually can’t say I have ever read this so called ‘only verse that leads to the Trinity understanding’. Go figure. No bogus verse and yet trinitarian.

See Dr. Dan Wallace’s scholarly treatment of this issue below or click here

“5:7 For there are three that testify, 5:8 the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are in agreement.”  ‑‑NET Bible

Before τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα, the Textus Receptus reads ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὁ πατήρ, ὁ λόγος, καὶ τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα, καὶ οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἕν εἰσι. 5·8 καὶ τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἐν τῇ γῇ (“in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 5:8 And there are three that testify on earth”). This reading, the infamous Comma Johanneum, has been known in the English-speaking world through the King James translation. However, the evidence—both external and internal—is decidedly against its authenticity. Our discussion will briefly address the external evidence.1

This longer reading is found only in eight late manuscripts, four of which have the words in a marginal note.  Most of these manuscripts (2318, 221, and [with minor variations] 61, 88, 429, 629, 636, and 918) originate from the 16th century; the earliest manuscript, codex 221 (10th century), includes the reading in a marginal note which was added sometime after the original composition. Thus, there is no sure evidence of this reading in any Greek manuscript until the 1500s; each such reading was apparently composed after Erasmus’ Greek NT was published in 1516. Indeed, the reading appears in no Greek witness of any kind (either manuscript, patristic, or Greek translation of some other version) until AD 1215 (in a Greek translation of the Acts of the Lateran Council, a work originally written in Latin). This is all the more significant, since many a Greek Father would have loved such a reading, for it so succinctly affirms the doctrine of the Trinity.2 The reading seems to have arisen in a fourth century Latin homily in which the text was allegorized to refer to members of the Trinity.  From there, it made its way into copies of the Latin Vulgate, the text used by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Trinitarian formula (known as the Comma Johanneum) made its way into the third edition of Erasmus’ Greek NT (1522) because of pressure from the Catholic Church. After his first edition appeared (1516), there arose such a furor over the absence of the Comma that Erasmus needed to defend himself. He argued that he did not put in the Comma because he found no Greek manuscripts that included it. Once one was produced (codex 61, written by one Roy or Froy at Oxford in c. 1520),3 Erasmus apparently felt obliged to include the reading. He became aware of this manuscript sometime between May of 1520 and September of 1521. In his annotations to his third edition he does not protest the rendering now in his text,4 as though it were made to order; but he does defend himself from the charge of indolence, noting that he had taken care to find whatever manuscripts he could for the production of his Greek New Testament. In the final analysis, Erasmus probably altered the text because of politico-theologico-economic concerns: he did not want his reputation ruined, nor his Novum Instrumentum to go unsold.

Modern advocates of the Textus Receptus and KJV generally argue for the inclusion of the Comma Johanneum on the basis of heretical motivation by scribes who did not include it. But these same scribes elsewhere include thoroughly orthodox readings—even in places where the TR/Byzantine manuscripts lack them. Further, these KJV advocates argue theologically from the position of divine preservation: since this verse is in the TR, it must be original. But this approach is circular, presupposing as it does that the TR = the original text. Further, it puts these Protestant proponents in the awkward and self-contradictory position of having to affirm that the Roman Catholic humanist, Erasmus, was just as inspired as the apostles, for on several occasions he invented readings—due either to carelessness or lack of Greek manuscripts (in particular, for the last six verses of Revelation Erasmus had to back-translate from Latin to Greek).

In reality, the issue is history, not heresy: How can one argue that the Comma Johanneum must go back to the original text when it did not appear until the 16th century in any Greek manuscripts? Such a stance does not do justice to the gospel: faith must be rooted in history. To argue that the Comma must be authentic is Bultmannian in its method, for it ignores history at every level.  As such, it has very little to do with biblical Christianity, for a biblical faith is one that is rooted in history.

Significantly, the German translation done by Luther was based on Erasmus’ second edition (1519) and lacked the Comma. But the KJV translators, basing their work principally on Theodore Beza’s 10th edition of the Greek NT (1598), a work which itself was fundamentally based on Erasmus’ third and later editions (and Stephanus’ editions), popularized the Comma for the English-speaking world. Thus, the Comma Johanneum has been a battleground for English-speaking Christians more than for others.

Unfortunately, for many, the Comma and other similar passages have become such emotional baggage that is dragged around whenever the Bible is read that a knee-jerk reaction and ad hominem argumentation becomes the first and only way that they can process this issue. Sadly, neither empirical evidence nor reason can dissuade them from their views. The irony is that their very clinging to tradition at all costs (namely, of an outmoded translation which, though a literary monument in its day, is now like a Model T on the Autobahn) emulates Roman Catholicism in its regard for tradition.5 If the King James translators knew that this would be the result nearly four hundred years after the completion of their work, they’d be writhing in their graves.


11For a detailed discussion, see Metzger, Textual Commentary, 2nd ed., 647-49.

2Not only the ancient orthodox writers, but also modern orthodox scholars would of course be delighted if this reading were the original one. But the fact is that the evidence simply does not support the Trinitarian formula here—and these orthodox scholars just happen to hold to the reasonable position that it is essential to affirm what the Bible affirms where it affirms it, rather than create such affirmations ex nihilo. That KJV advocates have charged modern translations with heresy because they lack the Comma is a house of cards, for the same translators who have worked on the NIV, NASB, or NET (as well as many other translations) have written several articles and books affirming the Trinity.

3This manuscript which contains the entire New Testament is now housed in Dublin. It has been examined so often at this one place that the book now reportedly falls open naturally to 1 John 5.

4That Erasmus made such a protest or that he had explicitly promised to include the Comma is an overstatement of the evidence, though the converse of this can be said to be true: Erasmus refused to put this in his without Greek manuscript support.

5 Thus, TR-KJV advocates subconsciously embrace two diametrically opposed traditions: when it comes to the first 1500 years of church history, they hold to a Bultmannian kind of Christianity (viz., the basis for their belief in the superiority of the Byzantine manuscripts—and in particular, the half dozen that stand behind the TR—has very little empirical substance of historical worth). Once such readings became a part of tradition, however, by way of the TR, the argument shifts to one of tradition rather than non-empirical fideism. Neither basis, of course, resembles Protestantism.

See also a follow up piece of Dr. Wallace’s here.

Text Tuesday – Information and Invitation

gods-word-is-love

Click image for source

Speaking about the Bible

The word which God addresses directly to us is (like a royal speech, only more so) an instrument, not only of government, but also of fellowship. For, though God is a great king, it is not His wish to live at a distance from His subjects. Rather the reverse: He made us with the intention that He and we might walk together for ever in a love-relationship. But such a relationship can only exist when the parties involved know something of each other. God, our Maker, knows all about us before we say anything (Psalm 139:1-4); but we can know nothing about Him unless He tells us. Here, therefore, is a further reason why God speaks to us: not only to move us to do what He wants, but to enable us to know Him so that we may love Him. Therefore God send His word to us in the character of both information and invitation. It comes to woo us as well as to instruct us; it not merely puts us in the picture of what God has done and is doing, but also calls us into personal communion with the loving Lord Himself.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer IVP 1973 Page 99

Trinity on Thursday – Modes of revelation and presentation

ways 2

For source click the image

Purely by accident, Fred Sanders and his thoughts of the Trinity – specifically how it is uniquely revealed and its importance for how we handle thinking and telling about the Trinity – feature today. They are worth reflecting on. Careful thought here will prevent the presuppositions of skeptics carrying undue weight.

It’s from a very useful blog which I visit frequently The Scriptorium Daily.

Click here for the original work and the last 5 thesis over at The Scriptorium daily.

1. The Revelation of the Trinity is Bundled With The Revelation of the Gospel. God published both at the same time, in the same ways: more obscurely and by way of anticipation under the old covenant, more luminously and by way of fulfillment under the new.  The answer to the question, “was the Trinity made known in the Old Testament” runs parallel to the question of whether the gospel was. In both cases, Trinity and gospel, we must account for two factors: the consistency of God’s entire work of salvation, and for the newness in the revelation of “the mystery which was kept secret since the world began, and that in other ages it was not made known to the sons of men, but  now is.” Epangel is not evangel, but they are both constitutive of God’s one message of salvation.

2. The Revelation of the Trinity Accompanies Salvation. Though it can be stated propositionally and in the form of information, it was not given primarily as information. Rather, this knowledge came along with the carrying out of God’s work of salvation. God saves, and further, wants the saved to “understand the things freely given us by God.” God did not hand down statements regarding the Trinity, but extended his arm to save, an action which by design brought with it knowledge of, and about, the one doing the saving.  As B. B. Warfield wrote, “the revelation of the Trinity was incidental to, and the inevitable effect of, the accomplishment of redemption.”

 3. The Revelation of the Trinity is Revelation of God’s Own Heart. Theology, broadly considered, is knowledge of God and of all things in God; “all things” are accounted for by a great many doctrines. But the doctrine of the Trinity is theology proper, knowledge of God in se. Thus its focus is not on those aspects of the divine nature which are knowable by the things created or of God in relation to things outside of him; those things are spoken of in Scripture substance-wise, according to God’s one nature. But the doctrine of the Trinity is a statement about God’s interior life, requiring statements relation-wise, internal to the divine being, describing the Father and the Son and the Spirit as they stand toward each other. Prepositions will be decisive in here: “That true and absolute and perfect doctrine, which forms our faith, is the confession of God from God and God in God” (Hilary of Poitiers, On The Trinity, V:37).

4. The Revelation of the Trinity Must Be Self-Revelation. This knowledge cannot be delegated or delivered by proxy. Hilary of Poitiers again:

Since then we are to discourse of the things of God, let us assume that God has full knowledge of Himself, and bow with humble reverence to His words. For He Whom we can only know through His own utterances is the fitting witness concerning Himself.

5. The Revelation of the Trinity Came When the Son and the Spirit Came in Person. In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, and sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying Abba, Father (Gal. 4:4-6). God did not openly proclaim the existence of his Son and Holy Spirit and then send them; but sent them. God did not announce the Trinity; rather the Son of the Father showed up, with their Spirit. “The revelation itself was made not in word but in deed. It was made in the incarnation of God the Son, and the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit” (Warfield).

6. New Testament Texts About the Trinity Tend to Be Allusions Rather than Announcements. The evangelists and apostles write from a background assumption that readers know God the Father because they have met the Son and Holy Spirit. They refer almost off-handedly to this understanding as something already given, not something to be introduced, put in place, or argued for. There is an obliqueness in nearly every sentence on this doctrine in the New Testament.

There are more – click the ‘here’ link above.

Text Tuesday – The Eichenwald Files 5

This will be the last in the Eichenwald Files. All the pieces I have linked to or excerpted say similar things (consistency anyone?) and are all by credible scholars – in the world of scholars. I have posted this series each week to leave a resource trail for Christians and the ‘curious and open-minded other’ to be exposed to careful, thoughtful, rigourous and defendable material. Rarely are ordinary Christians (like me) aware of such voices or exposed to them. That is one of the purposes of the Humble Donkey.

For the last File (5) I am directing you to Dr. Dan Wallace and his response to Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek piece.

Phil

For source click image.

You can find the full Wallace response here as well as other interesting materials by clicking here.

But here is an interesting excerpt from the section entitled:

Error 4: Simplistic Biblical Interpretation When it Suits His Purpose

Second, Eichenwald employs other simplistic interpretations to deny the NT’s affirmation of Christ’s deity. His statement that ‘form of God’ in Philippians 2.6 “could simply mean Jesus was in the image of God” betrays his ignorance about biblical interpretation. The kenosis, the hymn about the self-emptying of Christ (Phil 2.6–11) has received more scholarly interaction than perhaps any other paragraph in Paul’s writings. To claim that Jesus’ being in the form of God may mean nothing more than that he was human is entirely against the context. The hymn begins (vv. 6–7) as follows:

“who [Christ], although he was in the form of God,

he did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped,

but he emptied himself,

by taking on the form of a slave,

by looking like other men,

and by sharing in human nature.”

Christ’s humanity is mentioned only after he is said to have emptied himself. Thus, ‘form of God’ must mean something more than humanity. Further, the parallel lines—‘he was in the form of God’ and ‘taking on the form of a slave’—are mutually interpreting. Jesus was truly a slave of God; this is how he regarded himself (cf. Mark 10.45; Matt 20.27; 26.39). If ‘form of slave’ means ‘slave’ then ‘form of God’ may well mean ‘God.’ The rest of the hymn confirms this interpretation. Philippians 2.10–11 alludes to Isaiah 45.23, where God says, “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (NRSV). Paul quotes this very text in Romans 14.11 in reference to YHWH—a book Paul wrote six or seven years prior to his letter to the Philippians. Yet in Phil 2.10–11 he says,

“at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father” (NRSV).

Now the confession is about Jesus and it is a confession that he is ‘Lord.’ Either Paul is coming perilously close to blasphemy, something that a well-trained rabbi could hardly do, or he is claiming that Jesus is indeed true deity. And to underscore the point, he notes that all those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth will make this confession—language that is reminiscent of the second of the Ten Commandments, as found in Exodus 20.4: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (NRSV). The Decalogue—known as well as any Old Testament text to an orthodox Jew—is unmistakably echoed in the kenosis. To use this in reference to Jesus is only appropriate if Jesus is true deity, truly the Lord, YHWH himself.

Text Tuesday – The Eichenwald Files 3

Two continuations today 1) another careful handling and critique of the now notorious Newsweek article “The Bible So Misunderstood It’s a Sin” by Kurt Eichenwald and 2) the New Zealand connection continued from yesterday.

The resource I am pointing to today was posted at The Gospel Coalition which I highly recommend and written as a guest post by Dr. Darrell L. Bock, a serious New Testament scholar whom I had the priviledge of hearing for 3 hours and chatting with in New Zealand at the Matamata Bible Church in 2012.

Think

Here’s an excerpt from the post at The Gospel Coalition – specifically Justin Taylor’s blog – click at the end of this excerpt to get to the whole post and do consider its reasonableness, it’s content and it’s implications.

So 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.

Click here to go to the full blog post and feast, think and grow.

Friday Fundamentals – Functionally liberal non-liberals

Function

For source – click image.

Is your church functionally liberal?

From Ray Ortland’s blog, a very pertinent question. Click to visit his blog.

“It is one thing to hear God’s Word.  It is another to fear it, heeding all God’s warnings, trusting all God’s promises, and obeying all God’s commands.”

Philip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations (Wheaton, 2001), page 551.

The liberal churches I’ve known are not openly hostile to the Bible.  They like the Bible.  They want their preacher to use the Bible.  They have home Bible studies.  What makes them “liberal” is that the Bible alone is not what rules them.  They allow into their doctrine, their ethos, their decisions, other complicating factors.  The Bible is revered, in a way.  But it is not the decisive factor.  It is only one voice among others.

This lack of clarity allows unbiblical ideas and behavior to get traction.  In a liberal church no one stands up, with an open Bible in his hand, and says, “Hey guys, we just don’t say/do things like that around here.  It isn’t biblical.”  That simple clarity just doesn’t exist in such a church.  There is no authority towering over all else, rallying the people to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Only the Word of God, received with meekness, can prevent a church from sinking lower and lower into mediocrity, irrelevance, conflict and sheer boredom.

Is the dominant mentality of your church functionally liberal?  Whatever your church’s commitment might be on paper, what is it that, in real terms, leads and guides and defines your church culture?  All our churches should see themselves as potentially unfaithful.

We who lead are responsible to keep our churches in constant, repentant realignment with Scripture alone.  The only effective safeguard against spiritual erosion is not our doctrinal statement on paper but personally to swallow the Word whole.  We must never stop being eager to learn and change and grow under the Sunday-by-Sunday impact of biblical preaching.  Let’s keep on following the Lord, according to his Word alone, going further with him than we’ve ever gone before, further than we’ve ever dreamed of going.

As we enter the new year of grace, 2015, let’s humble ourselves before the Word of God.  After all, the message of this unique Book is good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit.

Trinity on Thursday

From the Monergism  website an excerpt from BB Warfield (1851 – 1921).

The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity

Benjamin B. Warfield


The term “Trinity” is not a Biblical term, and we are not using Biblical language when we define what is expressed by it as the doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence. A doctrine so defined can be spoken of as a Biblical doctrine only on the principle that the sense of Scripture is Scripture. And the definition of a Biblical doctrine in such unBiblical language can be justified only on the principle that it is better to preserve the truth of Scripture than the words of Scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity lies in Scripture in solution; when it is crystallized from its solvent it does not cease to be Scriptural, but only comes into clearer view. Or, to speak without figure, the doctrine of the Trinity is given to us in Scripture, not in formulated definition, but in fragmentary allusions; when we assembled the disjecta membra into their organic unity, we are not passing from Scripture, but entering more thoroughly into the meaning of Scripture. We may state the doctrine in technical terms, supplied by philosophical reflection; but the doctrine stated is a genuinely Scriptural doctrine. 

Click here to go to full article.

Text Tuesday – The Eichenwald Files – File 2

Re-blogging Dr. Michael J. Kruger’s second half of his rebuttal and exploration of the Eichenwald Newsweek article on the Bible.

The comments thread over there is extensive with Dr. Eichenwald contributing frequently, which is good to see. I recommend the comments section with a number of the links to other works and counter-arguments, for example Steve Hays.

out-of-your-depth-business-300x200

For source click the image

 

Here’s the beginning of Dr. Kruger’s work

On Christmas Eve, I wrote part one of my review of Kurt Eichenwald’s piece (see here), and highlighted not only the substantive and inexcusable litany of historical mistakes, but also the overly pejorative and one-sided portrait of Bible-believing Christians. The review was shared by a number of other evangelical sites and thinkers—including the Gospel Coalition, Tim Challies, Denny Burk, Michael Brown, and others—and ever since I have been digging out from under the pile of comments. I appreciate that even Kurt Eichenwald joined the discussion in the comments section.

But the problems in the original Newsweek article were so extensive that I could not cover them in a single post. So, now I offer a second (and hopefully final) installment.

False Claims about Christians Killing Christians

In an effort to portray early Christianity as divided and chaotic (not to mention morally corrupt), Eichenwald repeatedly claims that Christians went around murdering each other in droves. He states:

Those who believed in the Trinity butchered Christians who didn’t. Groups who believed Jesus was two entities—God and man—killed those who thought Jesus was merely flesh and blood…Indeed, for hundreds of years after the death of Jesus, groups adopted radically conflicting writings about the details of his life and the meaning of his ministry, and murdered those who disagreed. For many centuries, Christianity was first a battle of books and then a battle of blood.

Notice that Eichenwald offers no historical evidence about the mass killing of Christians by Christians within the first few centuries (we are talking about the pre-Constantine time period). And there is a reason he doesn’t offer any. There is none.

Sure, one can point to instances in the medieval period, such as the Inquisition, where Christians killed other Christians.  But, Eichenwald claims that Christianity began this way: “for hundreds of years after the death of Jesus.” This is another serious historical mistake that needs correcting.

When it comes to who-killed-who in the earliest centuries of the faith, it wasn’t Christians killing Christians.  It was the Roman government killing Christians.

Click here to get to the full article at Canon Fodder

Text Tuesday – Bible & Qur’an

I had the privilege of watching a live stream of the fascinating debate between Dr. Shabir Ali and Jay Smith – held in Toronto Canada last week. Fascinating because of the aterial questioning the widespread claims of muslims that the Qur’an was sent down, is unchanged and that the Qur’an of today is the Qur’an of yesterday.

Dr. Ali shocked us all by sidestepping the material and it could be said appeared to concede a number of matters rasied by Jay Smith and spent a huge amount of his main presentation time talking about the extraordinary numerology associated with the Qur’an or at least a particular version/reading of it.

I hope to link to it soon so you can peruse. In the meantime here is an argument that has some weight to it. I might have made some points differently but none the less there are some good questions here that require answering.

The Table: who’s it for?

CommunionReduxThis question comes out of a recent conversation with our best buds on Communion and when, if ever, one should hesitate to partake. It is something I have been thinking about for some time. A side question of who exactly can participate in communion arises and that will be my main focus in this post. I will be using the phrase ‘the table’ to describe the receiving of and participating in communion. For those wondering what is meant generally by communion within a christian context and what I am meaning by, it will become clear as we go along.

Thoughts and issues:

  1. Anyone can physically go to the table and receive the bread and wine (often grape juice) – that is obvious. That anyone can physically walk into a church worship gathering and go forward to take at the table does not mean that they should. In fact they shouldn’t and they may actually be exposing themselves to trouble in doing this.
  2. Firstly no one gets to the table in the true spiritual sense except by their being an adopted child of God. By this I mean that there are spiritual realities and benefits at the table that can only be accessed if the person is of the faith and is receiving said benefits by faith.
  3. So by a kind of membership and by a kind of remembering coupled with believing in what is remembered, spiritual realities – blessings and graces, are available to them – the believing member who remembers.
  4. And there is a right way for such a christian believer to approach the table. In faith, remembering what it symbolises and in fact is, and remembering what has made it possible. Firstly, what it symbolises and is. It is two things and the interplay between them is necessary to keep in mind and beautiful to behold. The first thing that it is – is drama – a double re-enactment. On the night before Jesus was crucified, he took a cup and took bread and spoke of them as being his body and blood. Body and blood being broken and being poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Spoken and broken.
  5. Hours later he would be nailed to a cross where his body was broken and his blood poured out. Broken and bled. The table re-enacts and captures both these realities – the last supper and the last brutal hours of Jesus’ life.
  6. But another thing the table is is a family gathering. Brothers and sisters together sharing the communion they have together before their heavenly Father who sent his eternal Son to bring others into this family relationship. Jesus is, in a very real sense, our elder brother. The Father and the Son have made family membership available to all  – by invitation only. The invitation is the Gospel. See my posts on the Gospel for clarity on what this actually means.
  7. If there are three components (and there are more) to the table this should help us answer the key question of who should participate in the table and what state this participation demands.
  8. Recapping, there are three components to the table a) the re-enactment of the Last supper of Jesus b) the remembering of the last hours of Jesus c) and it is the family meal for those doing the first two and rembering and receiving the benefits of them both with gladness.
  9. The answer to the question who can participate and receive is clear when we remember all three of these. The family members – the christian believers can and should enjoy the table and its benefits. They should approach the table in faith and in good conscience – being at peace with their God and his people. To approach otherwise is inviting trouble and the scripture speaks of physical implications of demeaning the table by a poor approach.
  10. The non-believer however should not participate at the table at all. The believers should support the non believing visitor in understandiing what is open to them and what is not and why? Actually, something greater than the table is open to them and through it and after it, the table becomes open to them.
  11. If the Gospel is the door to the house, the table is something enjoyed having entered the house by the door.
  12. This is actually the place of great confusion, often emotional confusion for many christians – unnecessarily so. Many christians wish for the table to be accessible to all – christian believers and non christians. They are motivated wonderfully but mistaken woefully. The motivation comes from the true understanding that Jesus is for all, that on the cross as his arms were forcefully kept apart through the nails of execution, he was opening his arms to all mankind to come to him for forgiveness, for restoration, for love and for life.
  13. All true. However they make the simple mistake of treating the table like it is an invitation to Christ. Christ turns away none who would come. Then none should be turned away from the table – Christ’s table. For such a person the wooden table and the wooden cross have become one and the same. No christian would turn away anyone from going close to the fountain of forgiveness – the cross and so it should be with the table. Such a conflation of two wonderful things is highly problematic and is in danger of leaving the seeking, wondering, searching non-christian with a sense of welcome but without reality.
  14. An inappropriate understanding leads to inappropriate guidance. When I say the non christian does not have access to the table, I am not saying he does not have access to Christ and his salvation. I am in fact saying and shouting that he has. And having received Christ’s salvation through repentance and faith, he then has access to a great many things, one of which is the table. First things first. Faith first, then the fruits of the faith. If you invite someone to the fruits without first encountering the gardener whose fruit it is – you are at risk of demeaning the fruit, the gardener, the faith community and the seeker.
  15. Communion is therefore exclusive. It is an insiders meal. Christ is exclusive. Exclusively for all.
  16. All outsiders may come via the wooden cross to the wooden table. But none may come directly to the table. What sense would it make to them. See the scriptures below – see their obvious context and apllication.
  17. Jesus said to his disciples – Do this in memory of me. The outsider, the non disciple is not asked to do this in memory of him. Of course I can hear the ‘proving’ testimony being advanced with haste. It goes something like this “My friend or I came to faith eventually in Christ after receiving or after a season of participation at the table, it is what drew me”.
  18. I delight in and don’t doubt your wonderful arrival in Christ. But the vageries of your journey, like mine with all its quirks should not be seen as normative or necessary or recommendable. That we arrived in Christ, the one who said Come unto me, is the repeatable, necessary, recommendable step.
  19. The table is exclusively for those who profess Christ (as Saviour and LORD). The table is a family meal. For the family of God in Christ – who have made this profession.
  20. Look at the verses – the activiity of partaking, breaking bread, is among the believers. Not among the interested, the seeker, the one who physical can go to the table but the one who has a rightful, blood bought, family space at the table.

1 Corinthians 11:28 ESV

Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Acts 2:42 ESV

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

1 Corinthians 11:27-29 ESV

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Acts 20:7 ESV

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

Acts 20:11 ESV

And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed.

1 Corinthians 11:26 ESV

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Acts 2:42-47 ESV

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,

 

Text Tuesday – Ten problematic red letters

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For source of image – click it

 There is a method of marking out Jesus’ words in Bible publications. They are printed in red. This method is only sometimes used. On the positive side, it makes his words easier to spot and quite convenient when scanning through a page quickly. However it has its downsides. Some chrsitians have begun to elevate these red letter words above the black letter words. We can then lose context and fail to see the rest of scripture as of equal value.

I attended an exciting evening of friendly christian-muslim discussion and debate in London last night. One of the thoughts that came out from the muslim perspective was a general though not complete acceptance of the red letter words of Jesus in the Gospels. Many though not all. This is not too surpirsing because many of the sayings and teachings of Jesus would be happily endorsed by almost every religious group in the world. His teachings on love, justice, sacrifice and service are unparraleled but yet universal. Hence their attractiveness. So I understand that my muslim friends (like Hindus and Buddhists) would be very accepting of much but not all of the actual spoken words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels.

But I took a few minutes today to just scan through one of the gospels – Matthew – and see a few of the things my muslim friends ceratinly could not accept because of a message from 600 years after Jesus that they have an allegiance to. I think I can hear a couple of muslim friends saying “no problem” to one or two of these. But an honest reading and a sense of their meaning in the original context should deflate any such aspirations. But I do accept them because long before an ostensibly good man in a cave brought to those outside the cave, a message so contrary to Christianity, the black letters and the red letters of the Gospels were part of the literature of the world – that’s the parts that the good man in the cave would like and those he wouldn’t. I must accept them all.

10 problematic statements of Jesus (red letter) for our muslim friends:

  1.  “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Matthew 11:27
  2.  Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[a] you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:5-8
  3. He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here. Matthew 12:39-42
  4. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. Matthew 13:40-43
  5. Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Matthew 15:10
  6. The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life. Matthew 17:22-23
  7. We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life! Matthew 20:18-19
  8. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:28
  9.  But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee. Matthew 26:32
  10. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20

Text Tuesday – Proper principles lead to proper evaluations

I am grateful for my encounters and discussions with people of other faiths and their questions about the Holy Book I submit to. Particularly valuable are the encounters with lovely folks from the unfortunately ever newsworthy Islamic faith. Without their comments and questions, at times insightful, sometimes ridiculous, I never would have gone on this journey of seriously thinking about what exactly the Old and New Testaments are; what they look like and consequently what they can’t look like (obviously, though often missed, because of what they actually look like.) Key travelling companions on this new journey which is just at its very beginning are Expectations and Weighing Scales seasoned with a generous dollop of the wonderful word ‘appropriate’.

I am learning how to understand what the Bible itself is and isn’t, and how to evaluate it with appropriate expectations. If you have a wrong understanding of anything, a wrong evaluation tool and the wrong expectations in the first place then you will misread many things, misterpret somethings and miss the whole point of the actual thing.

In understanding what the Bible itself is  & isn’t – we can say the Bible is never less than a work of history, a work of a faith community, a work of man – never less than that but always more – a work of God. Other supposed works of God are proposed as just that, only that – never less or more than that. A work of God only. It’s important to notice what a thing is, is supposed to be according to itself and what it is understood to be by those most closely connected to it. In my career I have been paid to notice things. Now as a very amateur theologian I am starting to notice things more easily. Noticing what a thing purports to be and what it is said to be, by the community with familiarity and allegiance to it, is vital. This will set an appropriate understanding, an appropriate scales for evaluaton and ultimately an appropriate relationship to the thing in question – in this case the Old & New Testaments.

scales

For image source – just click it

J. Warner Wallace (a former detective – I am married to a sort of detective – more on that another day) sets out some principles for evaluation a Text which is the work of God & man. Both. If it’s the work of both God and men (and the men have not been somehow roboticised or become some kind of fitful autoscribes (neither have ever been suggested of the men who have penned the Jewish and Christian scriptures) then the principles should do justice to it being the work of God while at the very same time accommodating it being the work of men in history, writing in literary genres with the ear of the hearing audience in mind. Though narrowly focused I find these principles to have the wisdom to bear broad application. Here’s the start of Ten Principles When Considering Alleged Bible Contradictions with the click to his site to catch the rest – I never know if it’s ok to reblog it all. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I have not today but have linked to it – he was a detective afterall.

Ten Principles When Considering Alleged Bible Contradictions

As a detective, I’ve learned to accept the variation I see between eyewitness accounts. I’ve interviewed witnesses of crimes (occurring just hours earlier), only to find what appeared to be significant “contradictions” between the accounts. It’s my job, as the investigator, to determine why the eyewitnesses appear to contradict one another, even though there is doubt the event occurred and the witnesses were telling the truth. There are times when similar variations (or alleged “contradictions”) are observed in the Biblical accounts. It’s our job, as Christian Case Makers, to apply a few simple investigative principles to determine whether or not these differences impact the reliability of the accounts. I want to offer a few investigative principles and filters for investigating these alleged Bible contradictions. These principles are not outrageous or unusual. They’re not specific to the Bible. They’re not Christian tricks or devices used to cover up inadequacies. They are straightforward tools and approaches useful when examining any ancient document or piece of evidence. If we objectively examine the Scriptures with these principles in mind, we’ll not only grow in our understanding of the Bible, but we’ll better comprehend and resolve the difficulties:

Principle #1: Begin With A Fair Attitude
Imagine you’re driving down the street and you come to a stop sign. You don’t assume the sign is wrong. Even if you don’t see opposing traffic or you don’t understand the reason for the sign being at that particular corner, you still stop for the sign. Even if no other car shows up at the intersection, you don’t simply blow through the sign. You give the sign the benefit of the doubt. In essence, you don’t assume a street sign is wrong until proven right. When you begin to read the Bible and examine what it says, it’s important to start off with a fair attitude. You don’t need to treat it as something unquestionable and beyond examination, but you do need to afford it at least as much consideration as you would afford a street sign, a box of macaroni or a friend. Before you jump up and call it a liar, take a second to examine what it says fairly.

The Example of Biblical Genealogies
As an example, let’s examine Biblical genealogies. Some have tried to use the Biblical genealogical lists with a particular Click here to get to the full article at the J. Warner Wallace’s site.

Changing word Unexpected into Expected

For image source – click it.

Text Tuesday (14th in the series)

Continuing the Text Tuesday series (even though last weeks post had 4 talks for your perusal. This week – no audio or video – just words.

Recently within the Tuesday Text series, I posted the fine work of others – a series by Tim McGrew speaking at Calvary Bible Church Kalamazoo. I had the priviledge of meeting him on the weekend here in London town and what an impressive scholar he is. More from Tim another time.

magic-book-1204250-mI am very comfortable with the approach of Jonathan Dodson on the Bible and it’s errors. We must remember that the Bible is a collection of ancient manuscripts, copied and handed down. It is however superintended by God in it’s provision. Are there errors in the Bible? Yes. But that’s not the end of story; merely for the open minded, it’s the beginning of knowledge. Does it have errors of the kind that are detrimental to its purpose, its narratives, its characters, its themes? Not that I can see.

The Bible translation I have in my home has errors – in fact it uses space on its pages to point to many of them. Not problematic for a document, written in history, by human authors even as supervised by God. But this would be very problematic for a magically arrived at book – a book without human authorship, human characteristics, stylings, nuances, faithfulness to human genres, with all it’s strengths and weaknesses. A ‘magically arrived at’ book is supposedly downloaded actively from on high through the merely passive human recipient(s). Such a book can carry no errors. For if it does the errors belong fully and soley to the Divine downloader – it’s only author. The bible has errors but not in the way that the non magical advocates should be worried. Let’s be careful not to make category errors and expect one species of book to behave and function like another.

And now over to Jonathan K. Dodson [check out his links also].

What to Say When Someone Says “The Bible Has Errors”

Most people question the reliability of the Bible. You’ve probably been in a conversation with a friend or met someone in a coffeeshop who said: “How can you be a Christian when the Bible has so many errors?” How should we respond? What do you say?

Instead of asking them to name one, I suggest you name one or two of the errors. Does your Bible contain errors? Yes. The Bible that most people possess is a translation of the Greek and Hebrew copies of copies of the original documents of Scripture. As you can imagine, errors have crept in over the centuries of copying. Scribes fall asleep, misspell, take their eyes off the manuscript, and so on. I recommend telling people what kind of errors have crept into the Bible. Starting with the New Testament, Dan Wallace, New Testament scholar and founder the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, lists four types of errors in Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible’s Origin, Reliability, and Meaning.

Types of Errors

1) Spelling & Nonsense Errors. These are errors occur when a scribe wrote a word that makes no sense in its context, usually because they were tired or took their eyes off the page.Some of these errors are quite comical, such as “we were horses among you” (Gk. hippoi, “horses,” instead of ēpioi, “gentle,” or nēpioi, “little children”) in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 in one late manuscript. Obviously, Paul isn’t saying he acted like a horse among them. That would be self-injury! These kinds of errors are easily corrected.

2) Minor ChangesThese minor changes are as small as the presence or absence of an article “the” or changed word order, which can vary considerably in Greek. Depending on the sentence, Greek grammar allows the sentence to be written up to 18 times, while still saying the same thing! So just because a sentence wasn’t copied in the same order, doesn’t mean that we lost the meaning.

3) Meaningful but not Plausible. These errors have meaning but aren’t a plausible reflection of the original text. For example, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, instead of “the gospel of God” (the reading of almost all the manuscripts), a late medieval copy has “the gospel of Christ.” There is a meaning difference between God and Christ, but the overall manuscript evidence points clearly in one direction, making the error plain and not plausibly part of the original.

4) Meaningful and Plausible. These are errors that have meaning and that the alternate reading is plausible as a reflection of the original wording. These types of errors account for less than 1% of all variants and typically involve a single word or phrase. The biggest of these types of errors is the ending of the Gospel of Mark, which most contemporary scholars to not regard as original. Our translations even footnote that!

Is the Bible Reliable?

So, is the Bible reliable? Well, the reliability of our English translations depends largely upon the quality of the manuscripts they were translated from. The quality depends, in part, on how recent the manuscripts are. Scholars like Bart Ehrman have asserted that we don’t have manuscripts that are early enough. However, the manuscript evidence is quite impressive:

  • There are as many as eighteen second-century manuscripts. If the Gospels were completed between 50-100 A.D., then this means that these early copies are within 100 years. Just last week, Dan Wallace announced that a new fragment from the Gospel of Mark was discovered dating back to the first century A.D., placing it well within 50 years of the originals, a first of its kind. When these early manuscripts are all put together, more than 43% of the NT is accounted for from copies no later than the 2nd C.
  • Manuscripts that date before 400 AD number 99, including one complete New Testament called Codex Sinaiticus. So the gap between the original, inerrant autographs and the earliest manuscripts is pretty slim. This comes into focus when the Bible is compared to other classical works that, in general, are not doubted for their reliability. In this chart of comparison with other ancient literature, you can see that the NT has far more copies than any other work, numbering 5,700 (Greek) in comparison to the 200+ of Suetonius. If we take all manuscripts into account (handwritten prior to printing press), we have 20,000 copies of the NT. There are only 200 copies of the earliest Greek work.
  • This means if we are going to be skeptical about the Bible, then we need to be 1000xs more skeptical about the works of Greco-Roman history. Or put another way, we can be 1000 times more confident about the reliability of the Bible. It is far and away the most reliable ancient document.

What to Say When Someone Says “The Bible Has Errors”.

So, when someone asserts that the Bible says errors, we can reply by saying: “Yes, our Bible translations do have errors, let me tell you about them. But as you can see, less than 1% of them are meaningful and those errors don’t affect the major teachings of the Christian faith. In fact, there are 1000 times more manuscripts of the Bible than the most documented Greco-Roman historian by Suetonius. So, if we’re going to be skeptical about ancient books, we should be 1000 times more skeptical of the Greco-Roman histories. The Bible is, in fact, incredibly reliable.”

Contrary to popular assertion, that as time rolls on we get further and further away from the original with each new discovery, we actually get closer and closer to the original text. As Wallace puts it, we have “an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the biblical documents.” Therefore, we can be confident that what we read in our modern translations of the the ancient texts is approximately 99% accurate. It is very reliable.

For Further Study (order easy to difficult):

Text Tuesday 10 to 13 – The Gospels as Histories

Calling very serious christians – here is a quite academic series of talks from a very serious scholar. They are above my head but so what! I am indebted to and can confirm the advice of John Piper about reading above your level. Your level does lift over time. I can read stuff today that I couldn’t have imagined being able to engage with 5 and 10 years ago. Also while reading above your level – you do get some of the things and as you push ahead you begin to gets stuff your earlier had to gloss over.

So watching lectures is kinda’ the same deal and I encourage you to read, think and converse above your level. Big ideas under consideration are like muscles worked out in the gym. Under strain, there is growth. I certainly prefer books to running machines, though I need both.

They are all over 60 minutes so treat them like a study series and watch one a week and repeat it within the week of viewing to maximise opportunites for increased understanding.

Richard Bauckham Lecture 1 – The Gospels as Historical Biography

Richard Bauckham Lecture 2 – The Gospels as History from Below – Part 1

Richard Bauckham Lecture 3 – The Gospels as History from Below – Part 2

Richard Bauckham Lecture 4 – The Gospels as Micro History & Perspectival History

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Text Tuesday 7 – What is the truth about alleged contradictions in the Gospels?

Week 5 and last in this valauble series from Dr. Timothy McGrew hosted by Calvary Bible Church, Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Alleged contradictions in the Gospels? is the subject.

I have loved this series and not just because of Dr. McGrew’s jumpers (pullovers / sweaters) but also getting to write the lovely word kalamazoo 6 times – this being the sixth.

Week 05, Powerpoint, Feb 17, 2013.pdf

Week 05, Resources, Feb 17 2013.pdf