Believers Are More Blessed than the Mother of God?

My title is somewhat provocative and needs some explanation. Clearly Mary, was immeasurably blessed when she was chosen by God to be the woman that would bear the Messiah. This has lead to many professed Christians to highly elevate her status. For example the Roman Catholic Church states:

“All generations will call me blessed”: “The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship.” The Church rightly honors “the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God,’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs…. This very special devotion … differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration.” The liturgical feasts dedicated to the Mother of God and Marian prayer, such as the rosary, an “epitome of the whole Gospel,” express this devotion to the Virgin Mary

Roman Catholic Catechism Paragraph 971

The blessing leads Rome to conclude that she should be given “special devotion” and that takes the form of liturgical feasts and Marian Prayer. However, contrary to what Rome and others might teach, the blessing the virgin received was actually a lesser blessing compared to what all believers receive (and we don’t see such devotion to the average believer). The word of the living God tells us:

And it came to pass, as he [Jesus] spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

Luke 11:27-28

Here we see an example of what many today do. The woman was praising Jesus’ mother and announcing that she must have been blessed. And surely there is nothing wrong with the bear recognition that Mary was indeed blessed for having bore Jesus. However, our Lord wanted this woman to shift her focus for a very important reason. The blessing of hearing the word of God and keeping it is the one we should be focused on because it is the superior blessing. Why is this a better blessing? Because this blessing results in eternal life. Mary, as much of a blessing as it was that she received, would still have gone to Hell had she not also received the blessing of being able to hear the word of God and keep it and the same goes for us. This is a Gospel issue. We as fallen humans (even those in a regenerate state) are inclined to have our eyes stray off the eternal for that which is of lesser value. Our Lord warns us in the Gospel of Mark :

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Mark 8:36

The eternal soul is of greatest importance, far more valuable than anything this world could offer. Focusing on the wrong things leads unbelievers to fail to realize the fullness of the danger they’re in outside of Christ. Christians are supposed to have their eyes fixed on the eternal (2 Cor 4:18) so we can warn those that aren’t in Christ and thus perhaps they might be saved. Proclaiming the blessings of Mary saves no one.

Conclusion

To those who have engaged in the adoration of Mary because of her Motherhood of our Lord, I implore you, do not exalt Mary more highly than the Lord would have her to be. Why focus on her blessing when the one who believes receives a greater one? Do not treat devotion to her as the “epitome of the whole Gospel” as the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church states (a most vile and blasphemous declaration). The true Gospel of Christ is that, through faith in Him, we are saved from the eternal death we deserve. So instead put your trust in the One that can save you from death, and praise Him for the completely unmerited blessing He has bestowed upon you. God has declared to you in His word:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

Romans 10:9

I pray that anyone apart from Christ will indeed hear those words and keep them.

A Systematic Defense for the Textus Receptus

Disclaimer: The Particular Baptist is evenly split on the issue of the Textus Receptus, with the hosts of the podcast having a debate on the subject here. As such, the following post does not represent the views of the blog as a whole. You can also read Dan and Sean’s articles here and here, respectively.

In the debate between the confessional text underlying historical Protestant translations of the Bible and the modern critical text underlying the majority of contemporary translations, it’s my opinion that the real substance of the debate can be lost in the sea of variants, manuscripts, and church father citations. By saying this, I don’t mean to diminish the importance of those facts. Rather, I say this because I contend the real reason for the disagreement is not the facts themselves, but how we interpret and weigh those facts. In other words, it’s the presuppositions we bring to the table that form the heart of this debate. My aim in this post is nothing less than to demonstrate that the presuppositions that lead to the Textus Receptus position are biblical, and that they are alone consistent with the tenets of Reformed Christianity, despite the good Reformed men who indeed disagree with us on the issue.

I will not be arguing in favor of the TR here per se, but rather in favor of the principles that would lead Christians such as myself to adopt it. Thus, there will be no discussion of the “Which TR?” question here. Even though I believe that a rigorous application of these principles would lead you to embrace a specific edition of the TR that you can hold in your hands as the very words of God, I will present the principles in a safer, more modest form, which – even if it didn’t lead you to adopt a single edition of the TR – would inevitably result in something that looks much more like it than the modern critical text offered as an alternative.

My argument can be summarized as follows: God’s promise to preserve His Word is more sure than our ability to reconstruct it. The reconstructionist presuppositions behind the modern critical text are incompatible with God’s promise of preservation. Therefore, the modern critical text must be rejected in favor of the text that the Church has organically received.

The rest of this two-part article will be a defense and an elaboration of the above.

Part 1 – Different Ways of Knowing and the Authority of Preservation

In order to properly evaluate the evidence on this issue or any other, we must know how much weight to give to the different types of arguments. For our purposes, we can divide the types of arguments Christians encounter into three broad categories.

  1. Appeals to the authority of Scripture. This is the highest and only absolute authority that can be appealed to. Scripture alone is given by inspiration of God, and is able to make the man of God perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is breathed out by God, contains no errors, and – as the infallible self-revelation of the infallible God – grounds every assertion faithfully derived from it with an absolute certainty trumping the authority of all other claims. We can be more sure of the claims of Scripture than the color of the sky, because its self-authenticating authority generates a greater assurance than even our fallible senses can provide. When our eyes tell us that the tree looks good for food, the Word of God says with greater authority, “thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). If any position is truly grounded in the authority of Scripture, it can NEVER be overthrown by an appeal to any lesser authority, because no lesser authority carries absolute authority with it, and it is impossible to overthrow a claim that you are 100% sure of using evidence that is less than 100% sure. By its very nature as the only absolute authority, it is the only authority that can ever have 100% certainty associated with it.
  2. Appeals to Church tradition. Already, we have moved to considerably weaker ground. Those who would attempt to bind a man’s conscience by the authority of tradition alone are rebuked by the Savior Himself, decrying those “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7). However, it must be said that when Scripture is silent, it is at least more authoritative than the third category, even if it already cannot be used to teach any sort of binding doctrine. The Scriptures themselves say, “in the multitude of counsellers there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14), and what is church history but a multitude of Spirit-led counselors? (Assuming the men we’re consulting are genuine Christians). [1] Again, Church tradition cannot bind the conscience or rival the authority of the Bible, but it can at least be helpful. I am here speaking only of Church tradition considered apart from the Bible itself, and not about the consistent exegesis of Scripture by faithful men of the past, which – when it can be demonstrated that they did it properly – carries the authority of the first category.
  3. Appeals to reasoning divorced from Scriptural truths and Church tradition. The weakest authority of all is reasoning that does not rest on the solid ground of Scripture or even the shaky ground of Church tradition, but rather on the quicksand of arguments unconnected to either of them. Over and over again the Bible throws water on merely human authority, admonishing us to “lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5), calling the wisdom of the world foolishness (1 Corinthians 3:19), and warning us not to be taken captive by human tradition and philosophy that isn’t based in Christ (Colossians 2:8). In the context of rebuking those who had a conceited pride about their own knowledge/wisdom independent from divine revelation, the Bible says, “if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2). As feeble, fallen creatures who either abide in darkness or else are just beginning to become truly acquainted with the light, all of our thinking is corrupted, dim, inconsistent, and woefully incomplete, so that we cannot truly know anything unless it stems from the revelation of Him who alone knows perfectly. Arguments from this third category are suspect by their very nature.

It’s important to keep these categories in mind when examining the merits of any position, and that includes the textual issue. Arguments that can plausibly be grounded in the first category must always be weighed as having greater authority – indeed, infallible authority if conclusively proved – than any arguments based on the second or third category. Likewise, arguments from the second category should be favored over the third, but are unable to challenge the first. Frankly, the only place for the third category is when both the first and second are silent/when appeals to them are utterly baseless, leaving the third as the only option. Accordingly, the burden of proof always rests on those arguing from the third category to show that it is really and truly the last resort, and even then they cannot present their position as certain due to the nature of the authority they appeal to – independent, worldly reasoning. They cannot simply pit their arguments against an argument derived from Scripture as if they are of equal weight. In order to have a hearing, they must show conclusively that the position they are opposing doesn’t have the Scriptural basis that’s asserted of it.

The rest of this post will be dedicated to showing that the presuppositions behind the TR rest in the authority of the first and second categories, as opposed to the arguments for the critical text, which appeal only to the third and contradict the first and second. I will also show that the appeals to the third category – like all other appeals to it – are ultimately shallow, unstable, and are completely unable to generate the certainty that the proponents of the critical text often claim it can provide. To argue for the critical text is to become inconsistent with the biblical epistemology that the faithful Christians who support it would otherwise embrace. If we embrace this way of thinking in the fields of cosmology, biology, geology, archaeology, and ancient history whenever the current consensus (derived from the “preponderance of evidence”) of any of them contradicts biblical claims, what biblical reason do we have for abandoning that way of thinking in the field that just happens to be closer to the hearts of many modern, famous conservative Christians – textual criticism?

The Biblical Basis for the Promise of Preservation

A number of passages can be appealed to in defense of the preservation of the Scriptures; the doctrine is ubiquitously taught in the Book whose availability is a testament to its truth. The Westminster Confession cites Matthew 5:18 as a prooftext for the doctrine in chapter one paragraph eight, which paragraph is identical to our 2nd London Baptist Confession. The verse reads, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Many complain that this verse is taken out of context, and that the chief point is that the prophecies and teachings of the Law will be completely fulfilled. But while that might be the ultimate aim of the verse, such complaints are nevertheless unwarranted because 1) Jesus’ argument appears to be a classic example of an argument a fortiori, and 2) the prophecies and teachings of the Law depend on the jot and tittle, which Jesus explicitly says will not pass away. An a fortiori argument is an argument from the certainty of a stronger claim in favor of a claim that would be true by extension. In effect, Jesus would be saying, “of course God’s law will be fulfilled, because God’s Word is so precious in His sight, and so sure to continue, that not even the smallest letter of it will be lost.” Again, arguments of this sort depend on the stronger premise being true, so there can be no doubt that Jesus really meant that not even a jot or tittle would be lost, which is what He says. The cultural context strengthens this interpretation, because that was indeed the common view of the Jews Jesus was speaking to and is how they would have understood it. In John Gill’s (1697-1771) commentary on this verse, he refers to several different Jewish sources that clearly indicate as much. For example, Rabbi Meir (2nd Century AD) says:

“In the time of the prophets there were such who very diligently searched every letter in the law, and explained every letter by itself; and do not wonder at this that they should expound every letter by itself, for they commented … upon everyone of the tops of each letter.”

Clearly, every letter was considered sacred in the eyes of the Jews. They believed each letter was that which God chose to infallibly speak and commit into writing for His perfect purposes. Since they were treating their copies of the Scripture in this way, they also clearly believed the original letters God gave them were preserved for them in those copies. More explicit is Akiba ben Joseph (40-135 AD), who Gill references as saying:

“If, (say they,) all the nations of the world were gathered together, ‘to root one word out of the law’, they could not do it; which you may learn from Solomon, who sought to root ‘one letter out of the law’, the letter ‘jod’, in ( Deuteronomy 17:16 Deuteronomy 17:17 ) but the holy blessed God said, Solomon shall cease, and an hundred such as he (in the Talmud it is a thousand such as he) … ‘but, jod shall not cease from thee (the law) for ever'”

The similarity between the language used by Jesus and a Jewish rabbi from the same century cannot be missed. Akiba even tells us of an apocryphal story where Solomon attempted to alter one “jod” (or jot) of Scripture, but God didn’t allow it, because He decreed that not one letter should cease from His Word. There can be no doubt, then, that when Jesus said, “one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law,” His audience would have understood Him to really mean that not a single jot or tittle would be lost. Frankly, there is no reason to believe that He just meant “no general concept would be lost” unless you’ve already made up your mind that He couldn’t have meant that, perhaps because your understanding of preservation wouldn’t allow it.

But a passage that I believe is even more relevant for supporting the view of preservation advocated by TR proponents is the classic text on the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

There are two reasons this passage is relevant. First, despite the frequent use of this passage to say that the original autographs (the original manuscripts written by the human authors of Scripture) were God-breathed and sufficient, the passage never directly references the autographs at all. That Paul is here speaking about the autographs is an assumption brought in by those who already believe that only the originals are the true Scriptures referenced by Paul in this passage. But if we believe that words should be interpreted in their own context, we will see that Paul just told us what Scriptures he was referring to in the previous verse:

“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15)

In other words, the God-breathed Scriptures Paul is referring to in verses 16 and 17 are the Scriptures Timothy has known from childhood referenced in verse . We must then ask, “did Timothy had the original autographs?” Since the answer is obviously no, we have two options:

  1. The copies Timothy had were given by inspiration again, or:
  2. Through the copies he had, Timothy possessed the original autographs which God had preserved through their faithful transmission all the way to Timothy’s generation.

The first option is obviously incorrect, because it contradicts Scripture’s presentation of inspiration as an event that happened in the past. Peter, for example, says, “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” in reference to the prophecies of Scripture (2 Peter 1:21). Therefore, that leaves us with option two: the copies of Scripture had been faithfully transmitted from generation to generation, and could be referred to as the authentic God-breathed Scriptures given by God. We have no biblical reason that this would cease after Timothy’s day, especially in light of the already discussed Matthew 5:18, which says that not one jot or tittle would pass.

The second reason this passage is relevant is its insistence that Scripture is able to make the man of God perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. As has long been recognized by Bible commentators, the phrase “man of God” does not simply refer to any male Christian, but rather refers to a minister of the Church in its New Testament usage (cf. 1 Timothy 6:11 and its Old Testament usage as a title for prophets – those who proclaim God’s Word). This does not diminish the sufficiency of Scripture for the Christian in the pew; rather, it confirms it, because a Christian minister has to be equipped for all the duties of an ordinary Christian as well as those only necessary for a pastor/elder/deacon.

But one of the most essential good works the Scripture equips a minister for is the pulpit ministry. As proponents of modern textual criticism are often not shy to admit, their view requires the minister to familiarize himself with the basic principles of textual criticism in order to handle the Word of God properly from the pulpit. It is essential, they say, for the minister to be able to distinguish the authentic from spurious textual variants using their principles as he encounters them in his preaching. The obvious problem is that, under this view, we have something necessary for the pulpit ministry that Scripture does not furnish us for. If it can’t be denied that the pulpit ministry is a good work – one of the most essential works for the man of God – and that an essential part of this ministry is identifying which variants can be preached as God’s inspired Word, then Scripture MUST equip us for it. Therefore, we must reject any method of determining the authentic readings of Scripture that cannot be grounded in Scripture itself. Otherwise, we risk denying the sufficiency of Scripture in an area it promises to thoroughly equip us for.

The difference between proponents of the Textus Receptus and the modern critical text is clear at this point. The methodology of the Textus Receptus follows the biblical example of organically receiving the Word of God. Like Timothy, who was able to know the Word of God from childhood, it proposes that all we have to do determine the true Scriptures is to look at what was received by God’s people. The only caveats is that the received text must be in the original language since inspiration was an event that occurred at the writing of the Scriptures, and so they cannot be reinspired in another form. The approach of modern textual criticism, however, is at odds with the biblical method of organically receiving God’s Word, and introduces unbiblical methods for determining the readings of Scripture using manuscripts that had been lost to the Church for over fifteen hundred years in some cases. This makes their approach at odds with the Bible’s teaching on preservation.

The Church’s Confirmation of the Doctrine

To prevent this post from being excessively lengthy (more than it already is), I will keep this section brief. An example of an argument from the Church’s traditional understanding would be an appeal to her confessions of faith. The 1689, for example, states that the words of God have been kept pure in all ages, and that the Greek New Testament they had and the Hebrew Old Testament they had “are authentic.” A modern critical text proponent will say that they don’t refer to any specific textual family here, and that is true. However, the whole of the Greek manuscript tradition they had was essentially that which is found in the Textus Receptus, and so unless one is prepared to say that the New Testament they referred to as being kept pure in all ages and presently authentic consisted of manuscript traditions they didn’t have access to in their age, it is clear that the NA28 is incompatible with their view of the text. This is especially certain in the context of who they were responding to, as one of the Roman Catholic arguments against Sola Scriptura was that the manuscript tradition had become too corrupted for the Reformers to use as their final authority. But if they were still unable to determine the authentic Greek text in their day, then this would have been a useless defense on their part. (see the section on the historical background of 1.8 of the Confession in Sean’s post for more on this).

The practice of modern textual critics is also certainly not in line with the Church tradition. They will often accuse Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza of doing work similar to theirs, but their practice differs in several vital areas. Most importantly, the manuscripts used for the TR had been in active use by the church in the East, and had not been altogether lost to the people of God. The manuscripts came to the West after Greek-speaking Christians were pushed out of their native territory, just in time for the development of the printing press, which would give the new Reformation Church a stable Greek text to be propagated and translated into the native languages of Protestants throughout the world. (The convergence of all those factors at one time and place seems almost providential, doesn’t it?). As such, the reformers were able to receive their Bible from a living tradition, rather than from an archeological site. For those interested in exploring the differences between the methodologies of the Reformers and modern textual critics more, I commend this article by Taylor DeSoto to you.

How the Modern Critical Text Position is Based Only on the Third and Weakest Form of Authority

That modern textual criticism is based neither in Scriptural truths nor Church tradition hardly needs to be proved. Proponents are quite open to the fact that it’s based in considerations such as the perceived development of text types, the plausibility that a scribe would make one sort of error over another, and an evaluation of the earliest extant copies. An easy proof of this is that some of the greatest textual critics even in the eyes of Christians in the field are unbelievers like Bart Ehrman, and that their scholars do not see the sharing of different theological commitments as any hindrance to their work.

But how could it possibly not be a hindrance? In a world where God has – with His singular care and providence – been working to keep His text pure in all ages, would we not expect a denial of that truth to have an impact on the work of the textual critic, and lead him to erroneous conclusions at least some of the time? Wouldn’t someone who believes God was working to give His Church His pure Word have a different standard of what’s necessary to overthrow the present text than someone who believes that the present text is just as likely to be inauthentic as not? We’d expect that someone who didn’t believe in preservation would overthrow the Church’s readings whenever the “preponderance of evidence” (according to the standards they’ve come up with) favored another reading by any more than 50%, but we hope the believer in God’s preservation would need something significantly more compelling than that. How then, could the believer and unbeliever come up with the same text, unless the believer was doing textual critical work with unbelieving presuppositions, or else the unbeliever was behaving like a believer? Considering the statements of some believing textual critics, such as Tommy Wasserman who once said, “I would like to work as a text-critic as if God didn’t exist, so to speak,” it’s not hard to say which of those two scenarios has happened.

In the last section, I will show how that – like every other argument grounded in the third category – the methods adopted by modern textual critics are far from able to provide the certainty they pretend to, and so do not come close to challenging a position built on God’s sure promises.

Part 2 – No Ability to Reconstruct the Text of the Early Centuries

One of the easiest ways to tell if someone has understood our position is if they accuse us of being inconsistent on the grounds that we have no consistent textual critical methodology to reconstruct the text. This would be much like saying to a young earth creationist (such as myself), “You have no consistent scientific methodology to determine the age of the earth! You use one standard of explaining fossils that exist in this strata, and another standard for fossils in a different one, etc.” Someone who would say this to a creationist clearly has not understood their position; the creationist position is that we should not use scientific inquiry to determine the age of the earth! The evidence is too fragmentary, the assumptions behind historical science are unfounded and untestable, and none of their efforts have the infallibility of God’s Word, which plainly teaches a young earth. Likewise, we proponents of the Textus Receptus say that the manuscript evidence is too fragmentary, that the assumptions behind textual criticism are unfounded and untestable, and that none of their efforts have the infallibility of God’s Word, which plainly teaches God preserved His Word.

The parallels between creationism and the arguments in favor of the TR are many, and the proponent of the modern critical text would do well to stop and ask himself before making a given argument: “Does this argument look a lot like the ones old earth creationists use against young earth creationists?” They complain that we shouldn’t discuss evidence if our position is theologically based. Well, is Ken Ham wrong to look at fossil evidence when his position is theologically based? It would be inconsistent of us to do so if we were saying our position was based on manuscript evidence, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful in bringing up the errors of our opponents’ viewpoint, and showing that the evidence is not as conclusive as they’d like it to be. Their view, in fact, has many problems.

1- Their evidence is fragmentary. Despite the often repeated trope that “we have earlier and better copies of the New Testament than any other work of antiquity,” the honest truth is we have nowhere near the number of copies necessary to establish the readings of the early Church with the level of certainty maintained by some modern critical text advocates. While its true that we have a greater number of New Testament manuscripts than other works of antiquity, and we have certain fragments that are nearer to the time of the autographs than can be found in other ancient works, none of these facts imply that we can have the kind of certainty we’d like to have in the reading of the Word of God. Most of the large number of New Testament manuscripts are late, and agree much more with the Textus Receptus than they do with the modern critical text. But there are some parts of Revelation, for example, that have only one extant Greek manuscript attesting to them for nearly the first thousand years of the Church, and it’s a sleight of hand to use the large number of later manuscripts to say that the early copies of the Church are well-attested to. Further, the Greek copies that we do have from the earlier periods are not geographically wide-spread, but simply come from a region whose climate was more conducive to their survival: Egypt. There is no good evidence that those manuscripts were representative of the text in Christendom as a whole and not simply the region they came from. This is especially probable because those texts (formally called “Alexandrian,” but that’s no longer recognized as a legitimate category) have been observed to contain more readings in common with the Textus Receptus the older they are. In the early 3rd Century Cheaster Beatty Papyri, for example, there are dozens of readings that are distinctly Byzantine (the family of manuscripts the TR belongs to), which surprised the textual critics of the time, who before only had Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus as the earliest Greek manuscript evidence [2]. In any case, the “Alexandrian” manuscript family that the modern critical texts mostly align with has little more than a handful of early manuscripts (mostly fragmented) from a narrow region of Christendom to support it. Considering the immensely larger population of manuscripts that no doubt existed at the time, the vast swaths of Christendom whose climate wasn’t favorable for the survival of manuscripts, and the apparent lack of influence these manuscripts had on many that came after them, can anyone say that this is sufficient to determine with certainty what the text of the Church looked like at this time? Especially when that “text” is so unstable, and its manuscripts so dissimilar from one another, that modern textual critics are abandoning the notion that its representatives could even be classified into a unified manuscript family?

For throwing doubt on the notion that the manuscript evidence is solid enough to reconstruct the text of Scripture with a high degree of certainty, TR proponents are often accused of a “hyper-skepticism” that would obliterate are ability to know anything about ancient history at all. The argument seems to be that since the standards for establishing the readings of other ancient works is even weaker than those for the New Testament, that therefore the small, disparate, regional manuscripts must be good and solid. This is a non sequitur. Poor evidence for one discipline doesn’t make evidence for another good. Further, TR advocates do not generally say that the scant evidence means you wouldn’t be able to know anything about the New Testament by the standards of secular history, or that you can’t know anything about Plato or Aristotle; rather, what we are saying is that it’s utterly insufficient to be able to establish individual readings with anywhere near the level of certainty that the opposing position pretends. Especially since – as the early, heretical corrupters like Marcion have shown – the authority that the New Testament demands over its hearers provides greater motivation for evil men to alter it than the works of Plato or Aristotle, and so if we are to appeal to the world’s standards of textual certainty, we would have greater reason to be suspicious of the copies of the New Testament than other works of antiquity. Therefore, our standard of evidence would need to be all the more stronger, and we cannot pretend that as long as it would be sufficient for another work that it would be sufficient for the NT. Most importantly, we can all rest easy if the standards for the Greek poets is only good enough to reliably establish their general content and not their exact words, but we can NOT rest easy if that’s all we can do with the Bible. God’s words are much more precious to the Church than the words of ancient pagans, and God has promised to preserve His words perfectly, not theirs. Every word of God is pure (Proverbs 30:5).

2- Their methods are unscientific. Despite often being referred to as the “science” of textual criticism, textual criticism is about as scientific as the social sciences. It’s essentially just guess work, and the principles for favoring one variant over another rests on little else than the opinions of a few men who pioneered the field. Sure, on the microscopic scale they may be able to reliably determine the spelling of a word, but whenever they encounter a translatable variant of significance, their “scientific” methodology is basically, “If I was the scribe in that circumstance, I think I’d probably be more likely to make this mistake instead of that mistake.” Examining their works, the language that appears is “probably,” “most likely,” “with little doubt,” etc. Unlike a real scientific discipline, they are unable to quantify those probabilities in any meaningful way. This is because they can’t conduct any sort of rigorous experiment to examine the success-rate of the “rules” they developed. Without knowing what the correct readings of a text should be, there is no way to determine if their methods have produced the correct readings, which is why they are unable to provide any hard numbers about the likelihood of their product. They are ultimately limited to their ability to imagine the different motivations for spurious readings, as well as their ability to reconstruct the circumstances of the unknown scribe, without any thorough way to determine if they’ve done a good job. Indeed, there must be many places where they haven’t done a very good job before, because as we speak CBGM (a computerized way of trying to uncover relationships between manuscripts) is overthrowing a large number of the readings that they claimed were established using reliable principles that could give us near certainty. So far, in fact, CBGM has been favoring Byzantine readings.

An example of the unreliability of their historical methods may be helpful. There’s a discrepancy in the opening of Mark’s Gospel between the TR and the modern critical text. The TR reads,

As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Mark 1:2-3)

However, in the modern critical text, instead of reading “As it is written in the prophets,” it reads “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet.” The problem with this reading is that the quotation that Mark immediately references is from Malachi, not Isaiah. But largely because one of the principles of textual criticism is to prefer the harder reading – i.e., the reading that’s harder for them to imagine emerging by accident – they ignore the vast majority of manuscripts which read “the prophets” in favor of “Isaiah the prophet.” They generally excuse the problem on the grounds that there was a custom to refer to the scroll of a major prophet that a minor prophet was attached to, but those who have looked into this have been hard-pressed to find a citation for that claim. But in any case, it’s far from inexplicable why “Isaiah the prophet” might have been tacked on later. I say that with confidence, because I once made a similar mistake myself. Earlier in my Christian walk, I had a conversation with two Jehovah’s Witnesses, and while witnessing to them I remembered hearing something about the citation in Mark 1:2 confirming that Jesus is Jehovah God. And so, I went to my King James Bible, which read “the prophets” in Mark 1:2, and recognizing the language of the quotation that followed, I went to the place I was sure it came from… Isaiah 40. Unfortunately, I found Isaiah 40 wasn’t nearly as clear in confirming Christ’s Deity as I was expecting it to be. The reason, of course, is because the passage Mark cites in verse 2 which proves Jesus is Jehovah God is in Malachi 3, not Isaiah 40, even though Mark references Isaiah 40:3 in verse 3. Because Isaiah is a more familiar book to most Christians than Malachi, and because I didn’t have the whole of chapter 40 memorized (believe it or not), I simply assumed that’s where the whole passage was from. Would it be shocking, then, if an early scribe who likewise didn’t have the whole Bible memorized but recognized the familiar language of Isaiah, wrote “Isaiah” in the margins, which was later confused as part of the text? This is especially probable considering that the scribe very likely wouldn’t have even had an Old Testament on hand to check the citation, and he couldn’t exactly Google the reference either.

Many more examples of their suspect conclusions could be given. I bring up that example not to say for sure how the error arose (I can’t mind-read the scribe any better than they can), but rather to show that it’s unwise to base our texts on the limited imagination of man. There is no guarantee we could come close to imagining all the possible ways one reading may have emerged over another, so it’s dangerous to place confidence in a reading simply because we think it’s less likely to be accidental. We are dealing with the Word of God, and we need a much surer ground for our confidence than what men can provide.

3- Their methods are inconsistent. The methods which they defend as the best way to reliably ground the preservation of Scripture can’t be applied to the whole Bible. Namely, they cannot be applied to Old Testament. A staple of their argumentation is that we can have confidence that we have the Word of God in the modern critical editions because it’s based on earlier and better evidence than other works of antiquity. However, the same people will usually insist that we can be confident about the readings of the Bible as a whole, but the OT would fail by those standards. The earliest material we have for the OT are the ~3rd Century BC Dead Sea Scrolls, which do include virtually the entirety of Isaiah, but otherwise little more than scraps of the rest of the OT. For the rest of the Hebrew Bible, we have the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, which are from the 10th and 11th centuries AD. Considering that the Pentateuch was written c. 1500 BC, we’re talking about a gap of ~2500 years from the autographs to our earliest copies. To dodge this obvious problem, evidence-based apologists will appeal to how similar the material is in the Dead Sea Scrolls is to the later copies we have, and indeed this is a remarkable testament to God’s providence in preserving His Word. However, they have already rejected appealing to God’s providence to ground the text of Scripture, and so to fill in the massive gaps between the earliest copies and the originals they appeal to the rigorous copying techniques of the Jewish Masoretes, and say this is sufficient reason from a purely naturalistic perspective to trust that the OT we have is authentic. But this argument cannot withstand any serious scrutiny, because it relies on extrapolating the techniques of the later Masoretes (6th-10th centuries AD) all the way back to the time of Moses. The history given to us in our Bible makes this impossible. Are we to believe that the techniques of the Masoretes were employed during the Babylonian Captivity? If we insist on not appealing to the promises of God when establishing our text, what historical evidence would anyone bring to say those practices existed during that time? Further, we know there wasn’t any extensive copying during the early reign of Josiah, because the copy found in the Temple was the only one they had (2 Kings 22:8-10). You can say that it was faithfully transmitted before and after that event, which I do, but you must admit that our grounds for saying that with confidence can only be God’s promise to preserve His Word. And if you say that we can be confident about the readings of a text that’s removed 2500 years from its originals, how can you turn around and say we’re wrong for trusting a text 1500 years removed from its originals is authentic? Are we wrong to do that because you believe the evidence we’ve found since that time undermines the TR (despite the fact this evidence isn’t good enough to prove that a single reading of our TR is inauthentic)? If that’s the case, why can you be confident that the Hebrew Bible we have is authentic, and that we won’t find earlier evidence for it that undermines it, in the same way you believe the TR has since been undermined? You surely can’t claim that our copies of the OT are too near to their originals to make that impossible. You are left where we are, and where we will always remain by the grace of God: trusting in God’s providence for your Bible.

Conclusion

When there’s a conflict between the plain reading of Scripture and the “plain reading” of other forms of evidence, we must always let Scripture interpret the evidence, and not let evidence interpret the Scriptures. This, I contend, is the foundation of creationism as well as the TR. Scripture was given to us to read and understand by the infallible God, but extra-biblical evidence has no such promise attached to it, and we have no reason to believe the “plain reading” of the current consensus of any human field was meant to lead us into truth. When the choice is between arguments built on the infallible ground of Scripture and arguments built on the quicksand of man’s reasoning, latest archaeological findings, and favorite scholars, we hope the right decision is clear.

Footnotes:

[1] Proverbs 11:14, of course, is speaking of godly counselors – followers of the old paths whose wisdom is rooted in God’s Word, such as the old men who counseled Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:7. The verse is not speaking of counselors that may appear in the third category – those like the young men who counseled Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:10-11 out of their own fleshly wisdom. The latter type of counselors multiply only folly.

[2] Hills, Edwards. The King James Version Defended. Des Moines: The Christian Research Press, 1997. Pg. 225.

Thoughts on the Textus Receptus: A Critical Text View

Author’s note: This is a revision of my opening statement from my debate with The Particular Baptist Podcast co-host Sean Cheetham. The content of this post is not representative of all contributors at The Particular Baptist.

CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s opening post by Sean Cheetham as he introduced this series with his position.

Recently, there has been a resurgence in debate as it relates to the text of the New Testament. Should the Textus Receptus (TR) be considered the “final word of God”? Those of the so-called “ecclesiastical text” or “confessional text” perspective would have us believe that the TR fits this paradigm. As debated in our last episode, Is the TR the Preserved Word of God? this was brought forward. To be clear, I do not mean to say that my opponent is “TR only”. He is not. However, I believe the core arguments for both “TR onlyists” and “TR advocates” are the same. Before moving on, I want to briefly provide context on what the TR (Textus Receptus) is.  The TR as it is known is really the combination of the Greek texts of Erasmus, Beza, and Stephanus. They each produced more than one Greek New Testament.  Their works would be utilized by the King James Bible translators.  The TR that is probably used most today is not strictly the works of Erasmus, Beza, and Stephanus.  It would be the work of Scrivener’s published Greek New Testament which is a work based on the underlying textual choices made by the King James translators.

Considering all the evidence we have is important if we are to honestly view the text of the New Testament. We should not simply pick a text-type, or a specific printed Greek text based on tradition or any other means that excludes honest historical evidence.  I believe that God has kept his Word pure in all ages as the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith states in chapter 1 paragraph 8.  I believe His Word has been preserved and kept from error.  This does not mean that the manuscripts were kept free from human mistakes as plainly seen by the over 400,000 variants that show up in our manuscripts which is more variants than there are words in the New Testament. But it does mean that in the tradition, God has kept his Word pure. As a side note, I do not believe that this confession is saying that a particular Greek text was kept pure, but that the text has been preserved in the manuscript tradition. James Renihan in an article titled “Our Confession and the Textual History of Scripture” writes on the historical accuracy of the claim that paragraph 1.8 is talking about the Textus Receptus. He notes,

“On the Confessional issue, I think that the matter has to be handled with great care.  On the one hand, it is easy to think that the language of the Confession supports the kind of doctrine of providential preservation promoted by modern defenders of the Textus Receptus.  But, in the study that I have done on the issue, I think that that is probably anachronistic.  Much more work needs to be done, but I think that the Confessional position is much more carefully nuanced than is sometimes represented to us today.”

He goes onto quote William Bridge who was a Westminster Divine and since the 1689 is based on the work of these Divines (at least in part), it can provide insight into what was believed by those scholars.  Bridge writes in his Works,

“How can we hold and keep fast the letter of the Scripture when there are so many Greek copies of the New Testament, and those diverse from another?”

“Yes, well; for though there are many received copies of the New Testament, yet there is no material difference between them.  The four evangelists do vary in the relation of the same thing; yet because there is no contradiction, or material variation, we do adhere to all of them, and deny none.  In the times of the Jews, before Christ, they had but one original of the Old Testament, yet that hath several readings: there is a marginal reading, and a line reading, and they differ no less than eight hundred times the one from the other; yet the Jews did adhere to both, and denied neither.  Why? Because there was no material difference.  And so now, though there be many copies of the New Testament, yet seeing there is no material difference between them, we may adhere to all: for whoever will understand the Scripture, must be sure to keep and hold fast the latter, not denying it.”

This statement by Bridge does not imply the settlement on a single Greek text or manuscript but taking the evidence that is given to reconstruct the original. What this means is that these men, at least with Bridge, would have loved to look at the other evidence we have today, yet would have held to divine preservation.  There may be a rebuttal that they would only be collating manuscripts of their day and therefore would not have envisioned using manuscripts found after their time. My response would be that nothing in what Bridge said implies only utilizing manuscripts of his day but discusses the method used to reconstruct the text. This method transcends manuscripts confined to a specific point in history and can be applied across the board.

Renihan goes onto quote Richard Muller who is a scholar in Reformed history from his Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms,

“specifically, variant readings in the several ancient codices of Scripture that lead to debate concerning the infallibility of the scriptural Word.  The orthodox, Lutheran and Reformed, generally argued that the meaning of the original can be recovered by careful collation of the texts.  In the second half of the seventeenth century, the argument was developed that inconsistencies occurred only in the copies, or apographa, and not in the now lost originals, or autographa, of Scripture.”

With confessional discussion aside, I want to address some assertions made by my brother Sean and bring out more detail than I was able to in our debate.

First, Sean asserts in a paper he wrote called, “The Word of God Kept Pure for us to Read in our Language” that modern textual criticism means text has been lost due to corruption. He writes,

“Modern textual criticism rests on the idea that the text of the Bible has become corrupt and is currently in the process of being restored…If it is true that the Bible was corrupt, then at best we could say that it was kept pure in some ages, but not that it was kept pure in all ages.  This is not to ignore the fact that the manuscript copies of the Bible do contain variances from one another, and clear deviations from the original text.  However, that fact does not mean the true church as a whole had a completely corrupted textual transmission.  We would expect by God’s providence that, even if only in a minority of manuscripts, the correct words of any part of scripture would be preserved somewhere in the Greek and Hebrew and at least some of the church would have access to it.  Any idea that part of the text has been completely lost to the church (even if only for a certain amount of time) should be rejected on its unbiblical nature.”

This argument is a strawman as it presents modern textual criticism as monolithic when it is not. Notice what Kurt and Barbara Aland said about the text’s tenacity in their book The Text of the New Testament on pages 291-292 and 294 respectively,

“The transmission of the New Testament textual tradition is characterized by an extremely impressive degree of tenacity. Once a reading occurs it will persist with obstinacy …. It is precisely the overwhelming mass of the New Testament textual tradition which provides an assurance of certainty in establishing the original text”

“It is probably quite clear that the element of tenacity in the New Testament textual tradition not only permits but demands that we proceed on the premise that in every instance of textual variation it is possible to determine the form of the original text”

They held that we have the original readings in our textual tradition without doubt, which by implication means God has preserved His Word and kept it pure in all ages.  To imply that modern textual scholarship as a whole means text has been lost is to misrepresent the position.

Second, my brother has asserted that we must determine the Greek text of the New Testament primarily by presupposition, meaning that since the Scripture is our ultimate standard, we must believe it to be the case from a textual stand point. Since his position holds the TR as the standard, we must believe that to be God’s Word, kept from error.  An evidence of this is found in his paper,

“Although there are variances between the printed editions of the TR, the variances are minor , and based on our faith in God’s word being preserved, we should expect that the TR editions should have the true reading somewhere and that it should be possible to identify which are true and which are false on theological or other grounds. Thus, we can say that every letter of God’s word is available to us complete and pure.”

To argue your view of a certain Greek text by using “presuppositionalism” is a misapplication of Cornelius Van Til’s system of apologetics. And if all agree that his systematizing of apologetics is truly biblical, an appeal to the Scriptures for authority on this apologetic methodology cannot be done without utilizing his method. Van Til did not apply his apologetic methodology to a specific manuscript or Greek text.  You find evidence for this in his book The Defense of The Faith on page 130 of the Fourth Edition,

“The proper attitude of reason to the authority of Scripture, then, is but typical of the proper attitude of reason to the whole of the revelation of God. The objects man must seek to know are always of such a nature as God asserts they are. God’s revelation is always authoritarian. This is true of his revelation in nature no less than of his revelation in Scripture. The truly scientific method, the method which alone can expect to make true progress in learning, is therefore such a method as seeks simply to think God’s thoughts after him. When these matters are kept in mind, it will be seen clearly that the true method for any Protestant with respect to the Scripture (Christianity) and with respect to the existence of God (theism) must be the indirect method of reasoning by presupposition. It in fact then appears that the argument for the Scripture as the infallible revelation of God is, to all intents and purposes, the same as the argument for the existence of God.”

In the referenced passage in his book, we see no mention of the “TR” or any specific Greek manuscript or text. In fact, in Van Til’s specific discussion of the doctrine of Scripture (on pages 127-136) he never once discusses directly the aforementioned items. Van Til’s point here has to do with the nature and authority of Scripture, not a certain Greek New Testament, or otherwise. Even if the rebuttal is that you are not strictly arguing what Van Til proposed, you are still utilizing his method, effectively borrowing from his worldview (ironically so, given Van Til argued the same about what the unbeliever does with the Christian worldview). And if you use the teachings of another individual as is done here in supporting the TR position, those words and messages still carry the meaning as they were originally intended. Just like when the unbeliever borrows from the Christian worldview, the meaning of those items he is borrowing do not change just because he is not giving God the glory. When we go to apply the teachings of a man, we should be careful to use them as they were intended, not as we want them to be. This is also not an argument from silence, as Van Til asserts his arguments for Scripture in the positive in relation to its authority and nature as opposed to anything else.  Also, this would be the place one would expect Van Til to address an issue such as a specific text of the New Testament as he clearly applies the same ontological argument for the existence of God to the Scripture being the infallible Word of God, but does so in the context of its authority and nature and not in any way implying a specific Greek text. But do not confessional text advocates argue a Greek TEXT by presupposition? Yet Van Til never argues a TEXT by presupposition, but the Scripture’s NATURE by presupposition. The only way this could be consistent is if a specific Greek text and the nature of Scripture are conflated.

After our debate, Sean had sent me a passage from R.J. Rushdoony in a book called Faith & Action, Vol. 1: Authority, Humanism & Morality where he asserts that Van Til came to believe his apologetic methodology should be applied to the underlying text of our Bibles. The quote from him is on page 569. There are three reasons I do not believe this to be accurate:

  1. Van Til’s book The Defense of the Faith was not recanted as needing to be updated. Given what I have established already about Van Til’s position on Scripture, would it not it be important for Van Til to have updated his work to reflect his new view? Otherwise, would it not lend us to believe his work remains as is given the evidence presented in this paper? In my next point, I note what Oliphant says about this specific work of Van Til.
  2. This book is still printed as representing Van Til’s apologetic methodology and therefore his conclusions. The conclusion or application of a methodology systematized by an author cannot be divorced from the methodology itself. If Van Til did in fact change his conclusion, the methodology would indeed have to change along with it. Since the notion of “presupposition” being applied to Scripture only encompasses its nature in Van Til’s mind, the the meaning of it would have to be expanded to include a specific Greek text. If 2+2 no longer equals four but now equals six, we would not simply look at the conclusion (six), but would want to know WHY 2+2 now equals six. This is because we would see a change in methodology that now changes the conclusion that was at once different. Given what I have said about Van Til’s methodology and conclusions, notice what K. Scott Oliphant who is the editor of the Fourth Edition said on page ix of the forward of The Defense of the Faith, “Given this context of controversy, this book should be seen as the center of Van Til’s long (forty-plus years) teaching and writing career. All that he had written and taught previously leads up to this book, and all that came after reflects back to it. In that sense, this is the book to read if one wants to understand Van Til’s approach to apologetics.” The controversy noted is about critiques that were laid against Van Til in relation to his apologetic methodology.
  3. Oliphant knew Van Til in his later years while in retirement not long before his death. He corresponded with him at length and learned from him in person ergo becoming an eye witness to teaching from Van Til.  This would likely be the time that Rushdoony asserted Van Til believed his apologetic methodology should be applied to the underlying text of the Bible. Oliphant, who inputs multiple clarifications of Van Til’s methodology throughout the book, makes no mention of this alleged key shift in Van Til’s philosophy. One would expect this to be addressed given Rushdoony’s claim about how much of a controversy this was between Van Til and Hills. We also have the positive statement by Oliphant in my previous point that clearly references Van Til’s work in The Defense of the Faith as representing the apologetic views of this great man and those views do not include application of those views to a specific Greek text. The only note that Oliphant makes on page 130 as it relates to the quote I used by Van Til is where he quotes the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 1, paragraph 4 on the authority of Scripture which is consistent with Van Til’s thought process in his discussion of Scripture.

Second, I want to address an inconsistency in Sean’s view of preservation and that the text the 16th century was “solidified”.

I want to demonstrate this by using the comma Johanneum.   He holds that the comma Johanneum is original, which creates problems with preservation on his own standard (the alleged grammatical issue created with the comma’s absence aside). The comma Johanneum does not show itself in the Greek tradition until the 13th century when a Greek copy of the Latin came into the scene.  This means that there is no early Greek evidence for this reading.  It only appears in Latin.  If a verse does not show up in the Greek tradition until the 13th century, and is later part of the text in the 16th century, doesn’t that mean the verse would have disappeared for nearly 1,200 years? This idea has been brought out by James White. Furthermore, does not this mean that the purity of the Word would not have been kept by God in all ages? This means that my brother cannot hold to preservation consistently with the very Greek New Testament he espouses as containing the Word kept pure. Even if you want to go to Erasmus, whose work was part of the TR, he did not include the comma Johanneum in his Greek New Testament until his third edition. If one of the framers of what would become the TR had issues with this verse, should that not cause one to pause and consider the authenticity of this verse? Luther’s German Bible did not even contain it since his New Testament was based on Erasmus’s second edition.

Dan Wallace, in talking about the comma Johanneum and about those who say the TR is the original text in an article titled, “The Textual Problem in 1 John 5:7-8” says,

“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).”

This has now been updated to seven readings due to later findings.

Would not this mean Erasmus ADDED to the text?  Does not that mean there would be more than God had preserved? How is that consistent with God’s Word being kept pure in all ages? To be clear, Wallace’s discussion about what TR and KJV advocates argue in his first two sentences does not appear to represent my brother Sean. But it provides context to what Wallace is arguing.

As to the notion of a “solidified” text in the 16th century, Sean writes about this as well in his paper. He asserts that the text the Protestants had was solidified with the help of the printing press.

“So, if modern textual critical methods are unable to help us identify the true text, how do we know what it is?  We should expect based on the wording of the confession and the scripture that we should have the text that the true church of Christ has always had.  While it may be harder to see what the state of the text in the manuscripts was in earlier centuries, even with new manuscript finds, we do know what the text looked like that was available to Protestantism in the 16th century when the text became solidified with the help of the printing press. The Hebrew text of the Old Testament that was available was known as the Masoretic Text, and the Greek text of the New is commonly called the Textus Receptus (TR).”

Sean noted in our debate that “solidified” was referring to the lack of ability for errors to be introduced into the text which by implication means the text had to be pure. Erasmus and the Reformers did not believe the Greek text of the New Testament was “settled” or “solidified” in their time as evidenced in the fact that not all the “TRs” of the day even agreed with one another. For instance, in Luke 17:36, Erasmus omitted this verse but Beza kept it. Theodore Beza even made a conjectural emendation at Revelation 16:5 deviating from Stephanus (as discussed in The King James Only Controversy second edition on page 105).

John Calvin, who was one of the Reformers, did not believe in a “solidified” or “finalized” text either as evidenced by his own changes to the “TR” of the time through conjectural emendations. Again, refer to James White in The King James Only Controversy of the second edition on page 114,

“Hills also noted that Calvin went beyond Erasmus, adding eighteen other places where he rejected TR readings in favor of others. Calvin also made two conjectural emendations: (1) at James 4:2, in reading “envy” instead of “kill”, and (2) deleting 1 John 2:14, seeming to him a repetitious interpolation.”

Reconstruction had to be done to the text.

Weren’t Reformers and Erasmus the ones who challenged Rome’s view of Scripture being preserved in the Latin Vulgate? Weren’t they the ones who were reconstructing Greek texts in opposition to the status quo? How are TR advocates not falling into the same position Rome did by challenging those who would criticize the TR? There were those who even questioned Erasmus’s view of inspiration in relation to his Greek New Testament as noted in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Erasmus’s life:

“Critics of Erasmus’ New Testament edition accused him of introducing changes to a sacred text and thus challenging the principle of inspiration. Erasmus denied these charges. On the contrary, he said, his edition restored the original text and corrected the errors introduced by translators and scribes.”

It can be seen from this short historical survey that this idea of a text that could not have errors introduced into it was unknown to the writers of the said text, and the one who advocates for that view must remain alone as it relates to its authors.

In conclusion, preservation of the Scriptures is especially important. If there is no preservation of God’s Word, there can be no confidence in what the New Testament teaches and therefore we cannot know what God has told us. Our faith would have no ground without the Scriptures. However, holding onto false notions of what the Greek New Testament should look like leads us into misrepresenting history. We must not fall into such historical fallacies.

The Word of God Kept Pure for us to Read in our Language

*Note this was adapted from a paper I wrote from Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary. It includes a partial defense of the Confessional Text position and thus is not representative of the opinions of all the writers on The Particular Baptist.

CLICK HERE to read the response by Daniel Vincent.

The doctrine of the Scripture is one of the most important doctrines of Christianity.  It is by this doctrine that we know how to find God’s will and the knowledge of how we can be reconciled to Him.  However, underpinning this doctrine is the concept that we actually have access to the Scriptures.  If we do not have access to them, it does not matter that they are the sole infallible rule of faith or that they give us the wisdom unto salvation (2Tm. 3:16).  The 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 in chapter one paragraph eight lays out the details of how we can know we have access to the Scriptures today. The confession reads as follows:

The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope.[1]

This paper will defend the statements of the Baptist Confession as being entirely biblical, will discuss the historical conflict with Rome over her authority and the puritan response that every word in the Bible had been kept pure as the reason that this paragraph is in the confession, and finally will demonstrate its disagreement with the assumptions of modern textual criticism. 

Biblical Basis

There are two major unique claims that the LBCF 1.8 makes that require a biblical justification.  First, that the Bible has been kept pure in all ages by God Himself, and second that the Bible should be translated out of the original languages they were written in into the language commonly used by the people reading them.  The other claims of the paragraph are either dealt with in more depth in other paragraphs of the confession (such as the affirmation that the church is to appeal to the Scriptures as the final authority), or are not usually disputed within church history (such as the affirmation that the Old Testament is written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek).[2] 

Dealing with the first claim, it is important to establish that God desires the scriptures to remain pure.  God cares about His word remaining free from the impurities put there by man.  He gives warnings about adding to or subtracting from His word in both the Old Testament (Dt. 4:2, Prov. 30:6) and the New Testament (Rev. 22:18-19).  The God who desires His words to be unaltered is able to prevent their corruption, as He can thwart the plans of man (Ps. 33:10-11). In various places, the scriptures testify that God has indeed kept them pure.  The confession cites Isaiah 8:20 as a proof text for this, which reads: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Is. 8:20).  In context God, speaking to the prophet Isaiah, tells him that rather than going to seek knowledge from the dead, through mediums, the people of Israel should inquire of God.  Thus, they should go to the law and to the testimony, as that is where God’s will is clearly laid out.  Between the giving of the law and the time of Isaiah several hundred years had passed, and yet God still points them to that law.  Clearly, if the law and testimonies had become corrupt whether by poor copying of manuscripts or by malicious intent, God could not tell Israel to go to them, as they would be unreliable witnesses to His will. Thus, by implication, God has preserved His will even across the centuries in the written word.  Outside of the prooftext used by the confession, there are others that can be appealed to.  Referring to the words of Psalm 82, Jesus says, “If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (Jn. 10:35).  Jesus’ argument to the Pharisees rests on the idea that because the scripture calls human judges gods, it is appropriate for Jesus to be called the Son of God. [3]  If scripture could be totally corrupted, His statement that scripture could not be broken would not be true, and thus His argument would fail.  The Pharisees could (in theory) say to Jesus that they did not believe the original version of Psalm 82 had such words, and thus they were not bound by them.  But Jesus reminds them that scripture cannot be broken, and thus they must deal with what they know to be what scripture says.  A final proof text is from Matthew’s Gospel, which reads, Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35).  Jesus claims that even though something as fixed as heaven and earth will be destroyed, His words will never be destroyed.  In context, He is referring to His words regarding the destruction of the temple and of His coming.  However, the same confidence we put in those words not disappearing we can put in the rest of the scriptures not disappearing, as the same God that preserves them will preserve the rest.

The second major claim, that the scriptures must be translated, rests first on the idea that believers have a right to, an interest in, and a command to read the scriptures.  Because the believer needs and wants to have the scriptures, the confession states they should be translated so they can read them.  The believer desires to read the word because it contains knowledge of how to be saved (2 Tm. 3:15).  They have a have a right to the scriptures, as Jesus condemns those who take away the knowledge of how to enter the Kingdom of God:  “Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered” (Lk. 11:52). For the command to read the scripture, the confession lists John 5:39 as a prooftext, which the King James and Geneva Bibles (the versions the framers of the confession would be most familiar with) do translate as Jesus commanding the Pharisees to search the scriptures.  However, as Gill points out, the verse could easily be translated as an indicative.[4] Another verse that would convey the idea would again be Isaiah 8:20; as demonstrated above, God has commanded people to go to the law and to the testimony in order to find out His will.  Thus, the believer has every desire to have the scriptures.

However, just because the people of God have an interest in knowing what the scriptures teach, does that mean that they should be translated for them?  It would seem obvious that since not everyone is able to read the original languages, that translations should be made, but the Bible also implies this is the case as well.  The confession rightly sites several texts from 1 Corinthians 14 to demonstrate the biblical nature of the idea.  1 Corinthians 14 contains a discussion about speaking in unknown languages by supernatural gifting and its edification to the church.  Here, Paul lays out a problem: “Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me(1 Cor. 14:11).  The fact that the church might not understand what is being said is such a problem that Paul says later, But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God” (1 Cor. 14:28).   Thus, the argument for the translation of the Bible from this passage is as follows: because Paul says that the we need an interpreter, or else no one will know what is being said and be edified, we should provide an interpretation (translation) of the Bible, so the churches can understand what has been said to them by God.  Paul does not seem to be worried that the translation may not fully capture the meaning of the words of another language, so neither should we.  Thus, not only are translations of the scriptures the only reasonable to thing to do, to hinder the making of them would be to harm our brethren and those that would believe through the translations by denying them access to God’s word, which they have a right to.

Historical Background

In comparing the three, there is no difference between the wording of the Westminster,[5] Savoy,[6]  and Second London Baptist confessions of faith in Chapter 1 paragraph 8.  Renihan notes:

When it [the 1689] concurs with these other documents [the Westminster and Savoy], it can be read as an endorsement of the views espoused by those Presbyterian and Independents who subscribed those documents, and of the theological works they published in defense of the Confessional statements.[7]

Additionally, out of the questions debated at the 1689 general assembly, none of them were issues that deal with the preservation or translation of scripture.[8]  Thus, it is safe to conclude that the framers of the Second London believed that they were in line with what their paedobaptist brethren of the time were saying.  We, therefore, can look at both Presbyterian and Congregationalist writings of the period to gain insight into what the Baptists believed about the purity of scripture and its necessity of translation.  

            Protestantism in the 16th and 17th centuries had to respond to attacks by Rome on the source of its authority: the scriptures.  One attack was to claim that Hebrew and Greek texts were corrupt to show that Protestants needed to have the Church to have the scriptures.  Turretin summarizes the issue: “This question is forced upon us by the Roman Catholics, who raise doubts concerning the purity of the sources in order more readily to establish the authority of their Vulgate and lead us to the tribunal of the church.”[9]  Rome had declared that the Latin Vulgate with all its books and parts to be the authentic scripture and anathematized anyone who would say otherwise.[10]  Any other edition of scripture made would have to have the approval of the Catholic Church.  Some Catholics rejected the idea that there should be translations at all.  As Turretin reports: “Arbor says, ‘The translation of the sacred writings into the vulgar tongue is the sole origin of heresies,’ and Soto, Harding, Bayle, and many of the order of Loyola agree.”[11]  The Catholic translators of the Douay Rheims Bible obviously did believe in translations, but also declared that the Greek copies were corrupted by heretics and that the Protestant translations were “corrupting both letter and sense by false translation.”[12]  These ideas, if true, would be devastating to Protestantism, which was built on the bedrock that the word of God was the sole infallible rule of faith.  A compromise on the purity of the scriptures (either in underlying text or perhaps even in translation) could lead people to conclude that they needed an external authority to know God’s word and will, and that would lead to Rome.  John Owen, when confronting the idea that Walton’s Polyglot might lead believers to conclude the scriptures had become corrupt, commented on this idea: “We went from Rome under the conduct of the purity of the originals; I wish none have a mind to return thither again under the pretense of their corruption.”[13]

            Protestants, therefore, began to defend the Scriptures both by evidence that they had been perfectly preserved, and on the biblical mandate that God said they would be.  They also began to defend the veracity of their translations.  The common protestant view of the day was that each individual word of God had remained uncorrupted.  Thomas Cartwright wrote a work defending the preservation of the Bible against what had been said by the translators of the Douay Rheims and said that “no one oracle or sentence of God can fall away,” and “the old and new testament written in their original tongues cannot either by addition, detraction or exchange be corrupted.”[14]  The Westminster Divines made reference to Cartwright and to his work during the assembly, showing his influence.[15]    He also defends the idea that, while the English translations of his day may not have been perfect, more work would improve them.[16]  Thus, translations could accurately communicate the word of God to their readers.  Many of the members of the Westminster assemblies defended perfect preservation in their sermons and writings.  Daniel Featly, a Westminster divine,[17]  held that Matthew 5:18 (a prooftext for the confession) meant God preserved “the smallest parcels of Scripture.”[18]  Thomas Manton, another divine, speaking about the same text stated that “Christ hath promised not a tittle shall fall to the ground.  The word hath been in danger of being lost, the Miracle of Preservation is therefore the greater.”[19] Here an acknowledgment of the reality that while the Greek and Hebrew copies may have had errors in them, God’s word had still not fully passed away.  It was only in danger of being lost, not that it had been.  Thus, Manton was confident he had the word down to the tittle in his day.  John Owen, whom many of the particular Baptists admired, wrote “whole Scripture, entire as given out from God, without any loss, is preserved in the copies of the originals yet remaining … In them all, we say, is every letter and tittle of the word.”[20]  Owen thus explicitly affirmed that every letter of the word existed in the copies of his day.  This was the milieu that the framers of the 1689 Baptist Confession had grown up in.  They no doubt feared an attack on the purity of the scriptures would result into people returning to the kingdom of the great enemy of Christ, and thus felt, like their other protestant brethren, that their confession of faith needed to include a section on the purity of the text and a note on translation to affirm that God had indeed kept His word pure in all ages.

Modern Application

One practical application of this paragraph has remained unchanged from the time of the Reformation;  Rome makes similar claims today about the necessity of its authority in order to know what the scriptures are in their text, and they can be refuted on the same grounds that our protestant forbearers did.  However, a perhaps newer application of this paragraph in the confession is to resolve a modern controversy, namely whether God’s word needs to be reconstructed using modern textual critical methods.  While this may be a controversial opinion, the author of this paper finds that the modern idea that the text of the church has been corrupted and needs to be restored to be unbiblical and unconfessional. 

Modern textual criticism rests on the idea that the text of the Bible has become corrupt and is currently in the process of being restored.  Take the title of one of the books by Bruce Metzger, one of the leading authorities on textual criticism in the 20th century: The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration.[21]  Clearly, he viewed the text as having become corrupt at least at some point and believed that it needed to be restored.  Wescott and Hort, two major forerunners of modern textual criticism, wrote that textual criticism is the “attempt to present exactly the original words of the New Testament, so far as they can now be determined from surviving documents.”[22] Thus, they were not even sure that they could fully restore the original biblical text with the manuscripts in their day.  This has not changed since the days of Wescott and Hort, as some modern biblical scholars define New Testament textual criticism as “the art and science of reconstruction the original Greek autographs as closely as possible.”[23]  Even if the texts produced by modern textual criticism do not disagree in core doctrine from the text of the framers of the confession, they clearly are not certain of the faithfulness of specific words in parts of the Bible.

These ideas do not appear to be in line with either the biblical data discussed in this paper or the views of the protestant orthodox.  If it is true that the Bible was corrupt, then at best we could say that is was kept pure in some ages, but not that it was kept pure in all ages.  This is not to ignore the fact that the manuscript copies of the Bible do contain variances from one another, and clear deviations from the original text.  However, that fact does not mean the true church as a whole had a completely corrupted textual transmission.  We would expect by God’s providence that, even if only in a minority of manuscripts, the correct words of any part of scripture would be preserved somewhere in the Greek and Hebrew and at least some of the church would have access to it.  Any idea that part of the text has been completely lost to the church (even if only for a certain amount of time) should be rejected on its unbiblical nature.  If it were true, Jesus’ words in John 10:35 that “scripture cannot be broken” would be wrong.  Scripture could be broken, as we might not have its correct reading, and even if we did, we might not know it.  Thus, any power it would have over us would be null.  Finally, if our protestant forebearers could say they had the complete and uncorrupted word of God down to the letter in their day and be wrong, then likewise, we would not be able to say with full confidence that we have the uncorrupted version today.  This leaves the believer in a precarious spot indeed, and susceptible to Rome or anyone else would seek to undermine the authority of the scriptures. 

So, if modern textual critical methods are unable to help us identify the true text, how do we know what it is?  We should expect based on the wording of the confession and the scripture that we should have the text that the true church of Christ has always had.  While it may be harder to see what the state of the text in the manuscripts was in earlier centuries, even with new manuscript finds, we do know what the text looked like that was available to Protestantism in the 16th century when the text became solidified with the help of the printing press. The Hebrew text of the Old Testament that was available was known as the Masoretic Text, and the Greek text of the New is commonly called the Textus Receptus (TR).  Although there are variances between the printed editions of the TR, the variances are minor,[24] and based on our faith in God’s word being preserved, we should expect that the TR editions should have the true reading somewhere and that it should be possible to identify which are true and which are false on theological or other grounds.  Thus, we can say that every letter of God’s word is available to us complete and pure.  Ultimately, as the Baptist Confession says, “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our heart”,[25] and thus it is the Spirit who gives us true assurance of the word of God, not a scientific reconstructionist textual methodology.  While this view is not held by the majority of the reformed today, the author of this paper does find it to be biblical, and that it would help strengthen the faith of many by assuring them they have the true text of the Bible and would help us in our efforts to witness to Rome or any other group that claims infallible authority.

[1] 2LBCF (1677/89) I.8

[2] It should be noted that there are a very few places where the Old Testament uses Aramaic instead of Hebrew, and there is a dispute about whether Matthew may have been originally written in Hebrew instead of Greek.  Overall, however, the statement of the confession about the original languages of the Bible is without controversy. 

[3] There is a popular interpretation of the Psalm that holds the gods being referenced are heavenly beings.  The author of this paper holds that they are human judges, although either view would not invalidate the point being made.

[4] John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament (1746–48; reprint, London: Mathews and Leigh, 1809), 1:807.

[5] WCF I:8

[6] Savoy Declaration I:8

[7] James M. Renihan, Edification and Beauty: The Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705 (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2009), 20.

[8] James M. Renihan, Faith and Life for Baptists (Palmdale: RBAP, 2016), 37-43.

[9] Francis Turretin, Institutio Theologiae Elencticae., ed. & trans J. Beardslee (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), II, 21 Questions, Q 10, accessed August 26, 2020. https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/21%20Questions%20on%20Doctrine%20of%20Scripture.pdf

[10] Council of Trent, Session IV, First Decree

[11] Francis Turretin, Institutio Theologiae Elencticae., ed. & trans J. Beardslee (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), II, 21 Questions, Q 13, accessed August 26, 2020. https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/21%20Questions%20on%20Doctrine%20of%20Scripture.pdf

[12] John Fogny, Rheims New Testament, preface, accessed August 25, 2020. http://www.u.arizona.edu/~aversa/rheims_intro.pdf

[13] John Owen, The works of John Owen. W. H. Goold, Ed. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), Vol. 16:370.

[14] Garnet Howard Milne, Has the Bible been kept pure? The Westminster Confession of Faith and the providential preservation of Scripture (self-pub., 2017), 73.

[15] Ibid, 68.

[16] Ibid, 70.

[17] Although he would eventually withdraw from the assembly before its conclusion

[18] Ibid, 138.

[19] Ibid, 126.

[20] Ibid, 195.

[21] Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament (New York, Oxford University Press, 2005).

[22] Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts, Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015), 2.

[23] Ibid, 1.

[24] James R. White, The King James Only Controversy. 2nd ed.  (Bloomington: Bethany House Publishers 2009), 113.

[25] 2LBCF (1677/89) I.5

Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train: Are You Ready for War?

WARFARE. It’s an ugly thing with very real consequences. Far too many soldiers have been brought home under the cover of the flag. Some never made it home at all. Having spent 20 years in the military, and four deployments to the Persian Gulf, I understand what goes into preparing for war. A service member isn’t just given a weapon and told to go to work. There’s months, sometimes years, of training involved. My first two years in the military were spent in training. As with all service members, I started off in boot camp. Over a period of eight weeks, we were broken down and rebuilt in a military culture. For the remainder of these two years, I was dedicated to learning the intricacies of the AEGIS weapon system, including the capabilities, limitations, and technical details of how to operate and repair it. Even after reporting to my first ship, there was still more training. There’s safety, basic seamanship, damage control, etc.

I’m reminded of my first deployment in 2003. We were still in the recent aftermath of 9/11. President Bush had just given an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein saying he could either leave Iraq, or that his refusal, “will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing.” That time came in the middle of the night as my ship was ordered to send several Tomahawk Cruise Missiles into Iraq. The remainder of that deployment was spent with a heightened awareness that we were living in a time of war. We were required to carry our gas mask kit everywhere we went. Each kit contained atropine and 2-PAM chloride in case we encountered a Chemical/Biological/Radiation (CBR) environmental attack. I vividly remember waking up in the middle of the night hearing the alarm for General Quarters (a condition that is set when the ship is either under attack or is in need of all hands to man their stations to save the ship). I went from being sound asleep in my rack to hearing everyone yelling to ensure nobody was still sleeping. Sailors were flipping on lights and running through passageways, boots still in hand and only being halfway dressed, in an effort to get to their GQ station. We went from most Sailors being asleep in their racks while the night watch held things down, to being fully manned and the ship’s material condition being set for watertight integrity, in what I seem to recall being roughly seven minutes. Thankfully, it was all just a drill set in motion by our Commanding Officer. We had been routinely taking over 15 minutes during our previous drills and he wanted to see what we would do when we thought we were truly under attack.

By now, you might be wondering what all of this has to do with Christianity. Why am I taking us all on a trip down memory lane? It’s because, all too often, Christians live their lives as if it’s all just a drill. Far too many have the approach of “let go and let God” instead of having a spirit of diligence (2 Peter 1:10), on the alert (1 Peter 5:8), standing firm against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11). I remember being told I study things to death and that I should just love Jesus. While there is certainly a danger in treating God as an academic topic, searching the Scriptures is commendable (Acts 17:11) and is our primary way of coming to know Him, while also equipping us to identify and flee from error.

If you were told you were going to be dropped into the Middle East as part of a convoy, I think it would be safe to assume you would want to know everything you possibly could. You would suddenly be an expert on geographical topography, statistics of attacks in the region, proper body armor, convoy movements, weapon familiarization, etc. Any knowledge which might increase your chances of making it home alive would be welcomed and valued. Why, then, do we not treat our daily lives the same way? Scripture is very clear that we’re in a very real warfare environment (2 Corinthians 10:4). Instead of fighting against earthly forces, we’re fighting against the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) and the spiritual forces of wickedness (Ephesians 6:12).

Just as with military preparation, we need to prepare ourselves for the spiritual battle that we will be waging our entire lives. It’s an ongoing battle that would lead any to the point of fatigue and failure if left to their own devices. But God has not left us ill-equipped. In the military, the responsibility of leadership is to man, train, and equip. To apply that analogy to our Christian walk really isn’t that far of a stretch. In fact, there are many similarities. I’d like to take a moment to review each point.

MANNED: No Christian is called to walk alone. God has given us His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail over it (Matthew 16:18). We are a band of brothers and sisters in arms who are called to sharpen one another (Proverbs 27:17). It’s through the encouragement of fellow saints (Hebrews 10:25) and holding one another accountable (Matthew 18:15-19) that we can count ourselves as properly manned in this fight.

TRAINED: It’s this point that I’ve been harping on since the beginning of this article. No service member gets dropped into war without being thoroughly trained beforehand. However, just because one is trained doesn’t mean there is no longer a need for continual training. Toward the end of my career, while I was the one training my Sailors, I was continually learning as well. The same goes for our combat readiness when it comes to spiritual warfare. Just because we may consider ourselves to already know about something doesn’t mean we can’t use the reminder (1 Peter 1:12-13). On a practical level, how often have you found yourself tuning out of a sermon that’s on a passage you’ve been over a thousand times? This is absolute arrogance and serves as evidence as to why we need to continually be in the Word. If the threat were bullets flying into your chest, you would never approach training in such a way. Yet, when the threat becomes eternity in hell, there seems to be an attitude of complacency. Perhaps this is because hell seems like an academic topic and the actual threat is taken lightly. Then again, maybe it’s because we have security in Christ and feel it’s not that important. If even the apostles refused to hold such a position, I highly encourage anyone who may be entertaining it to rethink where they stand on such matters. Do you know better than Peter or Paul? Our manual is the bible and we’ve been called to study it with diligence while accurately handling it as the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Submit to your church elders and be involved in the body of Christ. Through this, you will not be relegated to training in isolation. You’ll be afforded the joyful privilege of training as a cohesive unit, joined together in the power of our risen Lord!

EQUIPPED: Just as a military leader can hold the knowledge and training experience, if he neglects to properly equip his Sailors, he has failed them. God has taken care of everything from start to finish. He has given us His Church to be manned. He has given us His inspired Word that we may be trained. He has also given us his Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16) that we may be properly equipped. It’s only through the Spirit that we can truly understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14) and be guided in all truth (John 16:13). By the Spirit revealing the truth to us in accordance with Scripture, we are thoroughly equipped (2 Timothy 3:17) to perform every good work that is pleasing to God (Colossians 1:10).

Throughout my career, we had a saying: Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train. Through the continual drilling of ourselves, we can be ever ready for the real battle. Paul ran the race in such a way that he would win (1 Corinthians 9:24). He fought, not as if he were shadow boxing (1 Corinthians 9:26), but as if he were truly fighting the enemy. How do we prepare and train? It’s through the reading, memorization, and meditating on the Word that we can prepare ourselves for battle. This is exactly how Jesus overcame Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). Each time, Satan tried to tempt Jesus that he may lure Him into sin. Yet, in each desperate attempt of the evil one, it was the authoritative proclamation of the rightly divided Word (2 Timothy 2:15) that he was defeated.

May we continually press on and fight the good fight of faith and take hold of eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12). If you feel you may be neglecting your spiritual training, I hope you’ve found encouragement in this reading. I exhort us all to take seriously the charge to assemble with fellow believers (Hebrews 10:25), that we may remain steadfast in times of trial (James 1:12), and persevere until the end (Matthew 24:13) that we may one day be with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4) and know Him fully as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

~ Travis W. Rogers

How Shall We Live? Reminders for Life!

In last week’s article, we went over Jude 1-13. While we learned that Jude was the brother of Jesus, we also learned this was not a point that Jude felt he should brag about. In fact, he doesn’t even mention it in his letter. Jude felt his calling was to be a bondservant of Christ. He felt it necessary to teach of a certain group of men within the Church. These men were apostates and false teachers who, though appearing to belong in the Church, actually acted as nothing more than weeds dragging everybody else down.

For this article, I’d like to continue with Jude and dive into the remainder of his message. He wasn’t content telling us what to beware of. His message wasn’t wouldn’t be complete until he also told us how we are to live for Christ. He tells us what to watch out for and then goes on to tell us what to become. Just as with last week, I’ll refrain from posting all of Jude 14-25, for the sake of brevity. Again, I invite you to open your bible and follow along as we venture down this trail.

Jude 17
But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Note how Jude refers to us. He calls us beloved. This wasn’t merely an impersonal message to church members. It wasn’t a memo to be passed around. It was a deeply personal message written to his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no stronger bond than that of Christ. In calling us “beloved” we can feel the sense of love and concern that he was putting forth. He stresses the importance of remembering the words spoken by the apostles. In Jude’s day, this was done through verbal traditions. These words would have been passed on by word of mouth and held on to dearly. If anything, we are in a much better position because we have the Word of God. Jude didn’t have a New Testament to turn to whenever he felt the need to recall something. He was helping create the New Testament through inspired and authoritative writing.

Many people say Scripture memorization is only for intellectuals with great memories. This is completely untrue. If this were the case, it wouldn’t be commanded by God in His Word. This isn’t to say we need to know all of Scripture verbatim. It just means we are to be able to recall the teachings of Scripture as a whole. The only way to do this is to habitually be in the Word. the more we’re in the Word, the more comfortable we’ll become in our quest to know what it says. It’s by treasuring the Word in our hearts that we can remain pure and blameless (Psalm 119:9,11).

Jude tells us to remember the words spoken before us by the apostles. Psalm 119 tells us by keeping the Word of God in our hearts, we can avoid sinning against God. This is because it is by His Word that we are to live. Many years ago, I heard the quip that BIBLE stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, but it’s so much more. It’s our only true and unchanging guideline and standard by which everything else must be judged.

Jude 18-19
that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts. These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

As we covered last week, these men are in the Church but they are not true believers. They are not followers of Christ. They follow after whatever doctrine fancies them at the time. They blow about with the wind. They crash like wild waves. They are dead both inside and out. However, we also have to remember that they were appointed by God for this condemnation long beforehand as Jude 4 tells us. Last week, we learned how to spot them. This week, we are learning how to not become like them.

Jude 20a
But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith,

We are called to build ourselves up. Simply residing on a foundation is not enough. Imagine buying a piece of property. You seek out the absolute best contractors to get a perfect foundation laid. You ride them day and night to the point where they are exhausted. You refuse to give them water when they are thirsty and you beat them when they show signs of weakness. In the end, the contractors achieve what they set out to do: create the perfect foundation. There isn’t a crack or imperfection to be found. It has been finished. Would you be content with this foundation by itself? Would you set up a tent and then call it a day knowing that you had the perfect foundation and needed nothing else? The purpose of a foundation is to prepare for a building. The better the foundation, the stronger the building will be able to hold up to the ground beneath it.

Jesus is our perfect foundation (Ephesians 2:20). We beat Him to the point of exhaustion and, when we appeared to be on top, nailed Him to the cross. We may not have been there in person but we still shout, “Crucify Him!” on a daily basis in our actions. We murder our Savior day in and day out when we are called to build upon him as our perfect foundation. While false teachers and apostates have no root, we are to be firmly rooted in Christ, being built up and established in our faith (Colossians 2:7).

Not only are we called to build up ourselves but also to build up one another (Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). We are to encourage one another and care for one another. This is the exact opposite of what the apostates were doing. They cared only for themselves. This is because they lacked the one thing needed to truly care for someone other than oneself. They lacked love.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29, NASB)

Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. (1 Corinthians 8:1b, NASB)

In the above verse, the Greek word used for “edifies” is oikodomē. It literally means to build up. We are to constantly be in a state of building. We are to build ourselves but we are also to build our neighbor. It is through love that edification can occur and it is only in Christ that we can truly love as it is meant to be.

Jude 20b
praying in the Holy Spirit,

The idea of praying in the Spirit has taken on many interpretations. Some feel it’s a supernatural prayer language. Others feel it’s the gift of tongues. However, neither of these are accurate, and they completely miss the point of what Jude was trying to say. Praying in the Spirit is simply having the Spirit pray through us. The Spirit is not some foreign deity that we have to seek out. He literally dwells within us (1 Corinthians 6:19) and guides us in our sanctification. God is a Holy God. There are many times when we may feel like we fall short and don’t deserve to go before such a Holy God. The great news is that though Romans 3:23 confirms this truth, God wants us to come before Him regardless. When we have absolutely no idea what to pray for, we are to pray that the Spirit will show us what to pray about (Romans 8:26). He will intercede on our behalf as the Helper (John 14:16). Even if there are no words to be expressed, God knows our hearts. The Spirit will move us to be holy, set apart for God. Again, to pray in the Spirit is simply to have the Spirit pray in us.

Jude 21a
keep yourselves in the love of God

Note the change in instruction here. Building ourselves up in faith and praying in the Spirit are things we are to do, but this is not the end point that Jude is making. Everything he urges us to do points to the end goal of keeping the faith. He doesn’t simply say, “Keep the faith,” while leaving us in the dark. How do we keep the faith? We keep the faith by building ourselves up and praying in the Spirit. We keep the faith by keeping our focus on God at all times and growing in Him.

While keeping in the love of God, know that it isn’t a system of legalism that does it. We can’t work our way into God’s favor. It’s by the grace of God alone that we can enjoy being in His love. While we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), that doesn’t imply works will earn us salvation. It means we are to live for God each and every day under His grace (Acts 13:43).

While we are to keep ourselves in the faith, it’s God who keeps His children. He has promised to never let any of His children go (John 6:37, 10:28). He has promised eternal life. Not only is it a promise to His children but it is a promise that has already been fulfilled. Those who are His have eternal life. However, there are many who supposedly fall away from the faith, not just for a short time, but for real. The fact of the matter is that these men never had real faith, were never children of God, and were only deceiving themselves. This is why we are called to not only build ourselves up but to also build up one another. Edify one another.

Jude 21b
waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.

While living each day for God, we have a greater hope of the future in the return of Christ (Titus 2:13). We are made in the image of God and there will be a day when we will be glorified as Christ was also glorified following his resurrection. John says the one who anxiously looks forward to the Second Coming purifies himself to the same degree in which Christ is pure (1 John 3:2-3). Keeping our sight on God with anxious expectation is a sure fire way to sanctify oneself, edify the Church, and keep ourselves for God.

Jude 22-23
And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

Jude tells us we are to have mercy on some. The “some” that he refers to appear to be broken down into three different groups of severity. While we’re to show mercy to those in each group, each requires it for a different reason. Additionally, each group necessitates we take different precautions when interacting with them.

Jude 22
And have mercy on some, who are doubting;

These people appear to be your typical lost person. They have their doubts and aren’t quite ready to take the leap of faith just yet. Just as God was merciful on us, we are to be merciful on them. As Christians, we are called to be fishers of men. By showing mercy and compassion, we are showing them the love of Christ. These men would fall under your basic evangelism and witnessing.

Jude 23a
save others, snatching them out of the fire;

These men are also doubters but to a much severer degree. They are on the fast track for Hell as we all once were. These men need emergency intervention. They need a bit more focus and dedication to be swayed to truth. At one point in time, we were all bound for Hell. All mankind has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The wages of this sin is death (Romans 6:23). However, God saved us from the flames to spend eternity worshiping Him in His court. Shouldn’t we turn around and do the same for others by spreading the Gospel and preaching Christ crucified at every opportunity?

Jude 23b
and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

This third group would be the false teachers and apostates that we spoke of last week as well as the beginning of this article. These men are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Instead of building others up, they tear them down. We’re still to have mercy on them in that we preach the Gospel to them but we are to do so with a certain sense of fear. When handling these types, be careful not to be dragged down in the process. How many relationships have you heard of where the girlfriend dated an unbeliever hoping to convert him only to be dragged away from the faith as a result of being unequally yoked? Take an instance such as that and multiply the dangers. We should hate everything that these doubly dead men stand for but we should not let that get in the way of our mission of being fishers of men. Personally, I do not recommend a new believer speak with these people. Should a new believer come across one of these types, I would urge him or her to be loving but get away and refer him to a more mature believer in the faith.

Jude 24-25
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

After everything that Jude had to say to us, he finishes it out with praise to God. All of these are reasons for us to worship the Living God.

God has promised to keep us for Himself. In fact, even verse 1 tells us we are kept for Christ. We may face temptation but this does not mean we have to stumble. When God is our foundation, we can stand firm in Him. When we stand firm in Him, we will follow His ways and His commands which will result in standing blameless before Him. Think of the joy of Christ telling us, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.” It is only through Christ that we are reconciled to the Father. To God, through Christ, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority. In Christ, it is finished and eternity awaits us.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Doubly Dead: Danger Ahead!

DANGER. It’s a term not to be used lightly. While we, as Christians, look forward to eternal peace with the Father, in the Son, our present environment comes with no shortage of danger. In particular, I’d like to focus on the spiritual danger imposed by false teachers and apostates. To set the stage, we’ll primarily be in Jude. Jude is a small epistle consisting of only a single chapter. However, in that one chapter is a very important lesson that we all need to learn. As hinted at, it is the subject of apostates and false teachers within the Church. For the purposes of this article, our focus will be on Jude 1-13. We’ll simply address each verse individually as we paint the scene.

Jude 1
Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ:

First of all, we see that it was Jude who wrote this epistle. As it is written in verse 1, we can see that Jude is the brother of James. However, James was not his only brother. He was also the brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55). Some doubt Jude’s family ties by saying he would have mentioned Jesus instead of James in this verse, but it is commonly held that James was simply practicing humility. He could have clearly bragged about his relations with Christ. Instead, he lowered himself to nothing more than a bond servant. If we look at James 1:1, we can see James describes himself in the exact same way.

Knowing who it was written by is equally as important as knowing who it was written to. Verse 1 tells us it was written to believers. This was not a message for anybody who had ears. It had an intended audience. Jude had a word for believers, and by God’s grace it has been preserved for us. Notice how it describes believers. It doesn’t simply give an Arminian tag such as “one who chose Christ,” or “one who sticks around.” It goes much deeper than that. Anybody who has ever had the chance to speak with me knows that I am a Five-Point Calvinist through and through. This is because I firmly believe this to be the conclusive truth of Scripture. In fact, even Jude 1 appears to stand in favor. It says he is writing to those who are called and those who are kept for Jesus Christ. What exactly is meant by these words?

Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, (1 Corinthians 1:1a, NASB)

To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (John 10:3, NASB)

“These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” (Revelation 17:14, NASB)

and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:30, NASB)

We can see those who are called are much more than just publicly invited to something. As per Revelation, they are also chosen. As per Romans, they are predestined. Jesus is the Shepherd. He knows His sheep by name. He chose us before the foundation of the world to be His. We have been called by God.

Not only are all believers called by God before they come to Him, once called, they are also kept by God in Christ (John 17:11). No one can snatch us out of God’s hand (John 10:28). It’s His will that, if we are given to Christ by the Father, we will also be raised up on the last day (John 6:37,39; 1 Peter 1:5). Our salvation begins and ends with God. In the opening statement, Jude professes more truth than we’ll hear in an entire Leighton Flowers lecture.

Jude 2
May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.

This is a very common opening that we see in many of the other epistles. However, it’s not merely an introduction. Mercy, grace, peace, and love are all promises of God. It’s only by His mercy and grace that we, as wretched sinners who were bound for Hell, are saved at all. Scripture calls God our peace (Ephesians 2:13-14a). We’re called to be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4:6). If we have any concerns at all, we’re to cast them on God (1 Peter 5:7). He loves us so much that He died for us (Romans 5:8), and He desires to take every bit of anxiety away from us so that He can be our complete peace.

Jude 3
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.

Here, we can see Jude is urging his fellow believers to contend earnestly for their faith. Paul used similar wording in his epistles when he tells us to fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12), and to run the race in such a way that we win (1 Corinthians 9:24). Though we’re contending for our faith, it’s not something that we’re striving to obtain. The following verses demonstrate the nature of this.

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10, NASB)

and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:30, NASB)

Notice that it speaks of sanctification, justification, and glorification in the past tense. Saving faith is something that has already been completed in us through Christ, once and for all. The faith for which we are contending is simply our walk with God. Paul urges us in 1 Corinthians to not continue in sin for the sake of abounding in grace. We are to increase in our love for God, walk with God, and knowledge of God. This is only accomplished by continually staying in the Word as well as being in fellowship with other mature believers. We’re to continually fight the good fight. It’s in fighting this good fight that we will find ourselves equipped to recognize false teaching and steer clear of lurking danger that attempts to sweep people away (Mark 13:22).

Jude 4
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

False teachers were all over the place. In fact, they’re still all over the place. We see numerous places in Scripture where they are spoken of as having infiltrated the Church in a silent manner (Galatians 2:4; 2 Peter 2:1). Their goal was to learn about our ways so that they could pretend to be like us while pulling others astray. They introduce destructive heresies and teach things that take glory away from God and place it elsewhere (CLICK HERE FOR MORE). These people were getting to know their enemy, so to speak, even if they may not have thought about it in that way. Certainly, some false teachers are obvious to even the casual believer. Some of these include heretics such as Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, etc. However, there are others who are in error while drawing in masses of ignorant (and I use the term in the most loving way possible) believers. Some of these teachers include Steven Furtick and Beth Moore. Even with what seems to be an unending mine field of false teaching, and we need sound teachers and pastors to assist us in navigating through it, we shouldn’t be deceived into thinking they are there by accident.

A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. (1 Peter 2:8, NASB)

What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22, NASB)

While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. (John 17:12, NASB)

No, these men are not here by accident. Similarly, those Jude had in mind weren’t there by accident either. They were appointed by God’s sovereign will to be the foul apostates that they were. Even Judas Iscariot is described as the son of perdition. His whole purpose was to be destroyed. The Greek for “of perdition” is apōleia. It literally means annihilation. He was created to betray Jesus and then be completely and thoroughly destroyed. It goes so far as to say he was a child of utter annihilation. He was born to it. In all of this, God’s glory is made known through his power and wrath.

Jude 5
Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe.

Jude speaks of the future of unbelievers. This ties into the beautiful companionship of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Though all things are set in motion and held in place by God, the unbeliever destroys himself in his rejection of God and constant state of sin. We don’t hear about Hell very often in the Church today. Jonathan Edwards gave a sermon in 1741 called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Over the years, while being acknowledged as one of the most powerful sermons of all times, it has been the subject of backlash among bitter Christians who desire a feel-good Gospel. Even if we think we are familiar with sound doctrine, it needs repeating (2 Peter 1:12). A pattern you might notice in my articles is that I quote many verses over and over again over a period of time. I also touch on many core doctrines repeatedly. There is nothing wrong with this. Both Peter and Jude were under the impression that, despite already knowing certain teachings, it’s important to repeat them and remind fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how we remain sharp as we fight the good fight before us.

Jude 6
And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day,

Here, Jude refers to another group who rebelled against God and will one day be destroyed for it. It’s the fallen angels who followed after Satan.

Most of us know the story of the fall of the angels. Lucifer was an angel who rebelled against God, and, in fact, wanted to be God. As a result of his disobedience and rebellion, he was cast out of heaven and one-third of the angels were cast out with him because they chose to follow Satan instead of God (Isaiah 14:12-15; Revelation 12:4a). The result was being cast into pits of darkness, reserved for judgment (2 Peter 2:4). This is no minor event as it set the stage for the very fight we’re told to keep up.

Jude 7
just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

Jude continues with his theme of the relationship of rebellion and destruction. Just as God will destroy the fallen angels, He also destroyed Sodom & Gomorrah by fire for their perverted lusts, homosexuality, etc. We will be held accountable for our actions. While sin can be satisfying to the flesh at the time, we will reap nothing but death from it. Danger abounds!

Jude 8
Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties.

The “these men” that Jude speaks of are the same men he spoke of in verse 4. They are the apostates who are in the Church posing as brothers and sisters in Christ. Jude just finished speaking poorly of the fallen angels as well as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Note that he now refers to these men as performing many of the same acts. Yet somehow these men are within the Church! It may seem hard to believe that someone like this could possibly blend in among us but it happens all the time. Refer to the above examples if there is any doubt. This is why we need to know how to spot them. We need to stay grounded in the Word so that we can know how to properly discern truth from error.

Jude 10
But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.

Verse 8 says these men speak harshly of angelic majesties and of God. Verse 10 goes on to say that, despite being in the Church and acting like a Christian, these men do not understand the ways of the Church. If they truly understood, they wouldn’t have been acting the way they were. Though this is to be expected from the natural man in his unregenerate state. It’s simply not possible to understand the things of God unless you first have the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). All these men know is the evil of their unregenerate nature and that is the very thing that destroys them. In the end, they will be held accountable. They sin abundantly so that grace may abound. Paul tells us this is the exact opposite of how a Christian is to live his life.

Jude 12-13
These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

There is a lot to be said in these two verses. On the surface, a lot of it can be confusing due to all the metaphors. Because of this, I want to break it down piece by piece.

Jude 12a
These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves;

These men care only for themselves. They are as the shepherds of Israel who were feeding themselves while forsaking the flock (Ezekiel 34:2). They don’t care about the Christians within the Church, nor do they help them when in a time of need. They blend in with us but only take for themselves. They look out for #1.

Jude 12b
clouds without water,

Just like clouds without rain, these men are empty on the inside and serve no purpose (Proverbs 25:14). They revile the things of God yet often claim to be “holier than thou” in their quest for preeminance and glory.

Jude 12c
carried along by winds;

They are not rooted in the Word but go with many new doctrines and blow every which way. I’m reminded of the tragic downward spiral of Francis Chan as he seems to continually be carried about by every wind of doctrine and by the trickery of men (Ephesians 4:14). Look out at the overgrown grass in a field on a windy day. The grass will sway in one direction for a little while but, before you know it, it begins swaying in a different direction. As the wind changes direction, so the grass changes with it. The same is said of the men Jude is referring to. There is no absolute truth to these men. There is only what tickles their fancy at the time. There is no root. We are not to be like these men. We are to be rooted in the Word. A helpful tool that can greatly assist those who may be struggling as they seek to systematize their doctrinal position is an orthodox confession or creed. I highly recommend the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689).

Jude 12d
autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted;

Now picture the trees toward the end of autumn. The leaves begin to fall off. In fact, most trees can even look as if they are dead. If you didn’t know any better, you would guess it was never going to be green again. However, in time, leaves begin to sprout and flowers begin to blossom. It’s not so with these men. Not only do they appear to be dead on the outside, they are truly dead on the inside. They have no root in Christ at all. This shouldn’t come as any surprise. Jesus said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted” (Matthew 15:13).

If we remember earlier, Scripture plainly told us that these men are not here by accident. They may be responsible for their current status but they were appointed by God long beforehand to bring God glory through His wrath. They may be silently wreaking havoc within the Church for now, but there will come a day when God will uproot every one of them and destroy them. Though they may not yet be physically uprooted, spiritually speaking, they are already dead. In fact, Scripture refers to them as doubly dead; dead on the outside and dead on the inside. There is no fruit on a plant that has no root. These men are the ones Christ refers to when He speaks of the unforgivable sin in Matthew 12. They have no hope. They have seen the grace of God in the Church. They have broken bread with Christians. They have enjoyed the blessings of the Church. Despite all of this, they do not understand the things of the Spirit, do not have faith in Christ, and revile the things of God. There is no hope whatsoever of them ever coming to repentance and there is no other way to deal with them but to cast them out of the Church as one would pull a weed from a garden. The problem is in spotting them.

I’m reminded of the garden my wife was trying to grow. She had planted a few different types of seeds and flowers. Over time, the seeds sprouted and things began to grow. She was particularly proud of one that seemed to grow more than the rest. She didn’t remember planting it, but she thought it was a wild plant that happened to land there somehow. She briefly looked it up in a book and came to the conclusion that it was a certain type of wild flower. This thing grew to be as tall as our children. One day we had a neighbor over. He asked us why on earth we had a weed that was as tall as that one. My wife was shocked and slightly embarrassed. Neither of us knew what it was. In fact, we thought it was something it wasn’t. Yet, somehow, this friend was able spot it for what it really was: a weed. Sometimes, something is able to blend in and seem like the real deal while, in reality, it’s doing nothing more than killing what is around it while thriving on its own.

Jude 13a
wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam;

These men are not at peace. Jude calls them wild waves of the sea. Isaiah uses the same descriptive terms when speaking of the wicked (Isaiah 57:20-21). They have no control or order to them. They crash about randomly on their own with no guidance.

They boast in their own folly (Proverbs 15:21). They profess to be wise as if it will make them look prominent. However, it is this same “wisdom” that brings them shame and destroys them (Romans 1:22). If you look carefully at false teachers, the common thread is that they seek glory, have showmanship, and take their follower’s eyes off of sound doctrine. Their end state will certainly be destruction (Philippians 3:19).

Jude 13b
wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

As we reviewed above:

A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. (1 Peter 2:8, NASB)

“While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. (John 17:12, NASB)

What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22, NASB)

Not only are these false teachers/apostates bound for Hell but, in God’s sovereignty, it is actually reserved for them! Do not be like these men. We’re called to live for God and serve Him with everything we have. If we say we love God, we are to truly act it out in our every day lives. Be careful in the things you teach to another and always check yourself to make sure that you are God-oriented and not self-oriented. Learn to spot those whom Jude was speaking of so that you can accomplish what he so strongly urges.

Jude 3
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Glory to God Alone!

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.”

Psalm 115:1, NASB

NOT TO US. We live in a world that screams, “US!” Whether it be our job success, latest toys, or life experiences, the world says to always look out for #1. The sheer number of lawsuits in the headlines proves this. We live in a world of self-entitlement where we expect to be treated the same, if not better, than everybody else. If we do something well, we want our praise. If we mess up, we want to be thanked for at least trying and giving it our best shot. To us be the praises. To us be thanks. To us be the glory!

Yet, Psalm 115 opens up with a distinctly different wording. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory. This is a recurring theme throughout the Psalms.

“Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in holy array.” (Psalm 29:2, NASB)
“Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name;” (Psalm 96:8a, NASB)

God’s glory is not to be shared with anyone. It belongs to Him alone.

“For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:11, NASB)

 From a very early age, we’re taught to share with others. Yet, God is not some child being taught how to interact with other children. God is the Creator of the universe. Colossians 1:16 says all things were created by Him, both in the heavens and on the earth. Psalm 115:15 states the same.

“God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne.” (Psalm 47:8, NASB)

How can we expect our Ruler to share His glory? How can we expect anything from God at all? Are we worthy enough to lay claim to even the smallest inheritance? What does Romans 3:23 say? Does it say that all have sinned but still deserve credit for their efforts? No! It says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God! God owes us nothing. We have zero right to claim what is not ours. By nature, we are fallen beings who deserve nothing more than death and eternal damnation. We deserve outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Our God is in the heavens. He sits on His holy throne and rules over all of creation forever and ever.  If all glory belongs to the Lord, it stands to reason that anything we might boast of is actually us attempting to rob God. Instead of giving honor and praise to the King, it is our attempt to play thief to the very One who gave us life. How arrogant can we be?!?!?! Yet, this is exactly what we see in Psalm 115:2. We see men taunting, “Where, now, is their God?” We can see the same in Psalm 42:10.

“As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10, NASB)

Can such behavior and attitude really be excused by a holy and righteous God? Can a man go so far as to mock God and get away with it?

“Then my enemy will see, And shame will cover her who said to me, “Where is the LORD your God?” My eyes will look on her; At that time she will be trampled down Like mire of the streets.” (Micah 7:10, NASB)

 If we plan to go before God with such great audacity, be prepared to pay the price. Such a man may see death sooner rather than later.

“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker” (Isaiah 45:9a, NASB)

The question that begs to be asked is, “Is this really fair?” Would a loving God really care if we mess up? Won’t He forgive somebody in His love so long as that person tries to be good? After all, if we have already fallen short of the glory of God, shouldn’t such behavior be expected? To this I respond with questions of my own. Is it fair that we take God for granted in times of peace? Is it fair that we neglect to thank the very One who blesses us day after day? Even more so, is it fair that the Father would send His Son to die a brutal death on the cross so that guilty men could be reconciled to Him to spend eternity basking in God’s glory in heaven? No, fairness is hardly the question at all. Psalm 115:3 very plainly states that our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.

The sovereignty of God is as much a part of His glory as any of His other attributes. God doesn’t need to consult man before acting (Ezekiel 36:22; Isaiah 40:13-14).

In His sovereignty, He created the angels, even those who fell. In His sovereignty, He created man and even decreed the Fall. In His sovereignty, He ordained to send His Son in a beautiful plan of redemption. Christ was no mere afterthought. Every last detail of life is because of God’s sovereign rule from the throne. In a sermon on Matthew 20:15, Charles Spurgeon stated:

There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought more earnestly to contend than the doctrine of their Master over all creation — the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands — the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that Throne.

Charles Spurgeon (cited in “The Attributes of God” by A.W. Pink, pg. 34)

Arthur W. Pink said that:

Divine sovereignty means that God is God in fact, as well as in name, that He is on the Throne of the universe, directing all things, working all things “after the counsel of His own will”.

Arthur W. Pink (The Attributes of God, pg. 34)

It is not in spite of all of this truth that we give God glory but BECAUSE of it. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth. While God is righteous, holy, just, jealous, and wrathful, He is also love. It is because of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and truth that we proclaim His name to the masses and declare of His goodness. Our God is so vastly different than any other god (lowercase g). He is true. He is all knowing. He is sovereign. He is eternal. He is unchanging. He is holy. He is patient. He is good. He is merciful. He is gracious. He is faithful. He is loving. But most of all, He is alive.

In Psalm 115:4-7, we see a clear distinction between our God and the idols worshiped by the world. There could’ve been any number of ways in which to describe the idols but we see a very specific description being used. Ears that do not hear. Noses that do not smell. Hands that do not feel. Feet that cannot walk. Throats that remain silent. Imagine how insulting this would’ve been to the one who worshiped such an idol. After all, we don’t take too kindly when we hear people blaspheming our God. Honestly, I can fully understand how one would be insulted. That said, I care more about not insulting God than I do about insulting man. The Scripture is plain. I love the passage in 1 Kings 18 where we see the prophet Elijah challenging the worshipers of Baal. In verses 25-29, it says:

“25 So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.” 26 Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, “O Baal, answer us.” But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made. 27 It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.” 28 So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. 29 When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.(1 Kings 18:25-29, NASB)

The ESV actually translates verse 27 as “Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself…” When we look at this, we see some serious smack talk. While Elijah meant all of it as a taunt, to those worshiping Baal, it wouldn’t have been too far off from a very real possibility. In some ancient texts, Baal was known as one who would travel and fight wars. He was even reported as dying and coming back to life, hence the need to be awakened. Chances are, Elijah’s taunts would’ve gone right over their heads. Nevertheless, he mocked them with a purpose. He mocked them to show that there was no voice and no god to pay attention to them. Yet, they continued to plea for their god to answer them. They leapt around and began cutting themselves in an attempt to get Baal to answer. What happened next is nothing short of amazing!

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” 32 So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed. 33 Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood. 34 And he said, “Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. 35 The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water. 36 At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.” (1 Kings 18:30-39, NASB)

God answered Elijah upon his first request. Not only did God accomplish what Baal could not but He accomplished even more. Whereas the Baal worshipers simply had to get him to consume the meat, Elijah had them completely drench the sacrifice in water before it was his turn. No, our God is far more powerful than a little water.

21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” (Romans 1:21-23, NASB)

Mankind made idols in every fashion you could think of including images of other men. I’m reminded of when I lived in Japan. In Kamakura, there was a giant statue of Buddha. Further down the street, there was a temple with a golden Buddha. As you walked through the gardens, you could see little statues that were dressed in various articles of clothing. These statues represented the lost children of the individual worshipers. They would go and dress these statues in winter to keep them warm. It was sad on many different levels. I remember another temple where people were fighting to get close to the Buddha idol. They wanted to drop their money into the giant box in front of the statue. You had people in the back who were literally throwing money to the front hoping to be able to give to the idol. As I looked upon the Buddha statues, you could see they came in a variety of forms ranging from a peaceful chubby guy to a fiery warrior to a demon. However, they all had one thing in common: they were all depicting a man. They had reduced God to nothing more than an image of a man. Psalm 115:4 tells us that all who make them become like them. What does this mean? The idol is empty. It’s useless. It has no voice. It’s dead. All who worship idols become just like them. Idols may be made in the image of whatever form man concocts but man is ultimately just as dead as the idol they create. They have eyes but cannot see God. They have ears but cannot hear the gospel of Christ. They have noses but cannot smell the fragrant aroma of Christ’s sacrifice. They have hands that will never be cleansed. They have feet but do not run after God. They have throats but do not praise God. Then again, Psalm 115:7 tells us as much.

Many Christians read through these texts and wonder how a man could worship something he made with his own hands. The Scriptures address this same concern.

Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame. 10 Who has fashioned a god or cast an idol to no profit? 11 Behold, all his companions will be put to shame, for the craftsmen themselves are mere men. Let them all assemble themselves, let them stand up, let them tremble, let them together be put to shame. 12 The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary. 13 Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house. 14 Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. 15 Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” 17 But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” (Isaiah 44:9-17, NASB)

It almost sounds silly, doesn’t it? Yet we see this taking place all the time. It may not look like what that passage is depicting but we see idolatry all the time in the form of worshiping celebrities. It may be in the form of wealth. Perhaps it looks like a desire to be in control of all things at all times. Yes, idols exist today and they are just as dead and powerless as they were back then. Why then do we fall before them time and time again? Why do we repeatedly turn to the vices of this fleeting world? Ask yourself if there is anything you place before God. Ask if there is anything you might run to with more excitement than you get at the thought of being able to come before the very presence of God in worship. I’m not saying it’s wrong to enjoy other things. I’m not saying you have to move into one of the rooms at your local church to ensure you never miss a meeting, service, or opportunity. In fact, it’s very possible to be doing everything the “textbook Christian” should be doing and still be wrong. I’ve seen people who appear to be as Godly as they come and that turned out to actually be the case. I’ve also seen people who turned out to be cleverly disguised. Though it appeared both were giving glory to God, one was just a wolf out to seek his own glory, while attempting to lure as many Christians away as he could. True knowledge. Discernment. Increased love. Approving of excellent things. Being sincere and blameless. Having the fruit of righteousness. This declares how the Christian should live. With all this in mind, I would urge such a person to continually check himself or herself, as it’s easy to become haughty and prideful. However, it all has a purpose. It’s meant to bring all glory and praise to God. When those feelings of pride may begin to sneak in, I’ve found Roman 9:22-26 helps snap things back into perspective.

22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’” 26 “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.” (Romans 9:22-26, NASB)

As I began before, I’m simply asking you to quietly ponder if there is anything that excites you more than the opportunity to worship with other believers in the presence of God. There is only one God and He is alive! He has called us out of darkness and into the Light. He has removed our heart of stone and given us a heart of flesh. He has given us sight to see. He has given us ears to hear. He hears our prayers and answers them in the form of His grace. He preserves our hearts and keeps us in Him when we would so easily drift away otherwise. He planned, orchestrated, and carried out His redemptive story in Christ. He has saved us from eternity past, continues to save us from ourselves as we follow in obedience, and will one day save us from all forms of suffering and sorrow. Our God is alive and is worthy of our praise. Not to us, not to us, but to His name give glory! The Reformers held to a Latin phrase as should we all: “Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God alone!” Let us be as the psalmist as we say:

“I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And will glorify Your name forever.”
(Psalm 86:12, NASB)

~ Travis W. Rogers

I Am the True Vine

Let’s be real: Jesus was no stranger when it came to speaking in parables and confusing language. In fact, we’re even told the purpose of much of it was to prevent some from hearing and believing the truth (Mark 4:10-12). But what was Jesus getting at when He said He was the true vine? Was this just another riddle meant to confuse the self-righteous, or was there a deeper meaning behind it? For this post, I’d like to focus on the seventh “I AM” statement made by Jesus in John 15:1-6 and break down exactly what Jesus was talking about.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.

John 15:1-6, NASB

Verse 1
Using the analogy of the vine and vineyard was nothing new. John’s use of it is actually a play on the Old Testament.

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel.” (Isaiah 5:7a, NASB)
“Israel is a luxuriant vine;
(Hosea 10:1, NASB)

In John’s gospel, we see Jesus going above and beyond by calling Himself the true vine. There is far more to this than a mere analogy. Through careful wording, He is proving that He is the fulfillment of the promises given to Israel.

14 O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech You;

Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine,

15 Even the shoot which Your right hand has planted,

And on the son whom You have strengthened for Yourself.

16 It is burned with fire, it is cut down;

They perish at the rebuke of Your countenance.

17 Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand,

Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself.

18 Then we shall not turn back from You;

Revive us, and we will call upon Your name.

19 O Lord God of hosts, restore us;

Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.

Psalm 80:14-19, NASB

In verse 14, the psalmist describes Israel as the vine. Verse 15 says that it was God Himself who planted the vine. Though Israel was meant for great things, we see verse 16 says they were perishing. In verse 17, he pleads with God to show His mercy and grace. In fact, he pleads that it would be done through the Son of Man. When Jesus says He is the true vine, He is saying He is the fulfillment of the promise made to Israel. Christ’s church is Israel fulfilled. The nation of Israel was a foreshadowing of the vine to come: Jesus! He is the true, authentic vine and it is the Father who is the caretaker.

Verse 2
This is often used by people to make a case for losing salvation. However, when taken in context with the rest of Scripture, it falls short. The phrase “takes away” comes from the Greek word airo (ī’-rō). The word translated into prunes is kathairo (kä-thī’-rō). Kathairo has multiple meanings. While it does mean to prune, it also means to cleanse of impurity. Jesus is not telling us we are to live a works based faith lest we be cut off. He is actually telling us how we will know one another and is giving us a hope that we will grow in Him. Those who are cut off are those who we are warned of throughout Hebrews as well as in Jude. They are those who appear to be Christian within the visible church but have never truly become members of the invisible Church through faith. They are the apostates and wolves in sheep’s clothing. Jesus promises to cut them out completely lest they sap the strength from the rest of the fruit in the vine. For the true believers who will produce fruit, He will also cleanse and prune them so that they will be even more fruitful. The analogy would have hit home back then because the major fruit grown were grapes in the vineyard and this was exactly how it was done, and for the same reasons. We see a similar warning in Matthew 15:13 where it says, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted.” Those planted by God WILL bear fruit.

Verse 3
Here, Christ is telling us how we are to be cleansed. In fact, we see him using the word katharos. This is the root of the word kathairo used in verse 2. He tells us we will be cleansed by the Word (John 17:17, Ephesians 5:26).

“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NASB)
“so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,” (Ephesians 5:26, NASB)

Verses 4-6
By now, you should be seeing the simple fact that we have a complete and utter dependence upon Christ. We may act in obedience, but it’s always in complete reliance upon unity in Christ or else it is of no value. Scripture gives plenty of examples of our unity in Christ and the relationship that follows.

Foundation & Building
“For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11, NASB)
“having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:20-22, NASB)

Head and Body
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 6:15a, NASB)
“And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,” (Ephesians 1:22, NASB)

Husband & Wife
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:7, NASB)

The union between the vine and the branches is one in which no branch can produce fruit apart from the vine. Unless the nutrients are flowing freely, a branch will wither and die. The use of the word “abide” goes to show that salvation has already taken place in the individual. It is not something that he is working toward. Apart from Christ, we cannot produce any good fruit. As a result, we can rest assured the fruit is not our own but is of the Spirit working in us. We have nothing of ourselves to boast about (1 Corinthians 1:31; Ephesians 2:9). If it were so, we would continue to produce good works apart from the vine and Scripture would be a lie. The Spirit alone produces the fruit in the believer and keeps the believer abiding in Christ until the end. For those who were never a part of the true vine but only appeared to be for a time, they will have their day of judgment. Verse 6 is quite clear they are cut off, thrown away as a branch, dry up, and are burned in the fire. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”

May we continually trust in the true vine and the vinedresser. Let us continue to stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24) while remaining steadfast in the faith of a risen Savior (1 Corinthians 16:13), letting the word of Christ richly dwell within us (Colossians 3:16)!

~ Travis W. Rogers

Who Can Stay His Hand?

The book of Daniel is a fascinating book. We see Daniel and his friends in the midst of exile serving a pagan king and being seeped in pagan culture. They rose to power as they served the Lord faithfully where they were, by working hard at the tasks they were given. In this, we see the hand of God providentially bringing about His purposes in Daniel and his friends. This is a perfect place to reference with regards to biblical evidence for God’s sovereign power over all things. Even early on in the book, these faithful ones are put to the test and God’s power was shown:

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.  He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.

 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do:  As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

Daniel 3:1-6 (NIV)

They were given the choice to serve God or serve man. God then worked mightily in Daniel’s friends by showing His power to Nebuchadnezzar, who then praised the one, true God. But the king’s heart was still hard and he would not repent. And then chapter 4 comes. Here, we see the story of a king turned madman because he would not give praise to the one, true God, but rather saw himself as all powerful:

Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon,  he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

Daniel 4:29-30 (NIV)

You would think at this point the king would have learned that God was not to be trifled with. He had witnessed on more than one occasion God working through His servants that were placed in Babylon. But Nebuchadnezzar continued in his arrogance and rebellion to God. He continued to give praise to his gods and even went as far as to say, “This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.” (Daniel 4:18 NIV)

He was so arrogant that he said Daniel had the spirit of the pagan gods within him, notwithstanding all of the mighty things Daniel did by God’s clear power and the praise that the king himself gave to The Most High. God then brought the king low, giving him the mind of an animal. To be clear: it was not the king who brought his own sanity back, but through the supernatural power of God Himself. Notice what the response was after he was brought back from his low state:

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

His dominion is an eternal dominion;
    his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
 All the peoples of the earth
    are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
    with the powers of heaven
    and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
    or say to him: “What have you done?”

 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Daniel 4:34-37 (NIV)

The king explicitly confesses the sovereignty of God above His creation. His creation is but a pawn being used to bring about His eternal purposes. There is nothing man can do to legitimately call into question the acts of God. Given that we are His creation, He has the right to do with us as He wills, and whatever that is, it is just, righteous, and pure. How arrogant are we when we say that God can not possibly have brought about this terrible thing or that terrible thing or that God does not have absolute sovereignty over all His creation, which includes our wills! Does God work against what man wants to do? Absolutely. See what the Psalmist says:

The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.

Psalm 33:10 (NIV)

Here we see two wills at play: the will of man, which plans and purposes, and the will of God which, foils and thwarts (or, as the ESV says, “frustrates”). Any notion of libertarian free will as it relates to God’s plan is moot given this passage. Man wants one thing, but God wants another, and His will takes precedent given that He is the Creator. He is the great “I AM”, the self existent one who needs no other to exist. His decree will come to pass infallibly.

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
    I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
 I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.’

Isaiah 46:9-10 (NIV)

These truths should humble us and cause us to submit to God’s providence, however harsh it may seem from our perspective.

Notice, after the king’s restoration there is not one mention of himself in his praise to God. He has been emptied of himself and his pride, and ascribes all glory, honor, and praise to the One who is all powerful. We will close with commentary from Calvin on Daniel 4:35:

For although men make themselves of very great importance, yet Nebuchadnezzar here pronounces himself by the Spirit’s instinct, to be of no value before God; for otherwise they would not attempt to raise themselves, unless they were utterly blind in the midst of their darkness. But when they are dragged into the light they feel their own nothingness and utter vanity. For whatever we are, this depends on God’s grace, which sustains us every moment, and supplies us with new vigor. Hence it is our duty to depend upon God only; because as soon as he withdraws his hand and the virtue of his Spirit, we vanish away. In God we are anything he pleases, in ourselves we are nothing.

It now follows: God does according to his pleasure in the army of the heavens, and among the dwellers upon earth.

Calvin’s Commentaries on Daniel 4:35
%d bloggers like this: