Friday, September 30, 2016

Good Roots Yield Good Fruits

Peter Leithart at First Things has an interesting short post on the chiastic structure of Romans 10:9-10.  Here are the formatted verses:

A.  Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
B.  and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
C.  you will be saved.
B'.  For with the heart one believes and is justified,
A'.  and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

After an examination of the structure, Leithart ends with:
Substantively, the double use of the root indicates that salvation doesn’t come from heart belief alone.  Salvation results from the work of two organs, the heart and the mouth.  Heart-belief is absolutely necessary, but not sufficient to achieve salvation.  The interior heart has to emerge into the public forum, verbalized in confession.
While I mostly like the piece, the lest sentence gives me pause, because it seems ambiguous.  Leithart appears to make the confession of faith in a public forum a necessary work to be worked in order to procure salvation.  This is never the case as good works, prepared beforehand by God, are to be walked in subsequent to salvation.  The proper understanding of this passage is to see that confession and belief are two aspects of a single reality.  Belief is evidenced via outward expression.

Works without faith is self-righteousness, while faith without works is fideism.  Both scenarios leave us as the walking dead.  Life comes solely through the Word of God given to us that we might believe, confess, and do it, as Paul goes on to quote from Deuteronomy 30:14:
But what does it say?  “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim).  (Rom 10:8)
If we believe the finished work of Christ is “for me,” then what (and Who) has been given abides within and is naturally expressed by what is confessed, (i.e., by their fruits you will know them).

What do you confess?  What fruit to you bear?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Should It Be "All Greek to Me"?

For some time now, I have been considering the merits of an Old Testament (OT) based on the Greek Septuagint (LXX), rather than Masoretic Text (MT).  Christians in the Western Church have advocated the MT, which follows the line of reasoning:
  1. God gave the Hebrew people His commandments and promises.
  2. These things were originally written in the Hebrew language.
  3. The Law was communicated in Hebrew.
  4. Rabbinic scholars did what they could to preserve the Hebrew text.
  5. Bible scholars generally advocate a critical edition of texts in the original language.
At face value, these seem to be sufficient grounds for using an Old Testament based on the MT.  History demonstrates that the matter is not entirely settled.

During the Second Temple Period, a project was started in Alexandria, Egypt, to make God’s Word accessible to Greek-speaking Jews.  Translation of the Pentateuch began in earnest in 250 B.C. with other books following over approximately 100 hundred years.  The difficulty enters when we understand that there was more than one Hebrew text family, much as there are three major New Testament (NT) textual families.*  What came to be called the LXX is not translated from the Masorah.

The differing source text did not mean that LXX was not considered Scripture.  Much as the multiple families of NT manuscripts are considered Scripture, so the Jewish scholars continued to hold the Greek translation of a certain textual family as authoritative.  Because of this status, the LXX was used in synagogues throughout the Roman empire during the time of Jesus’ ministry into the second century.  At this later time, the Jews chose to drop use of LXX in favor of a compiled Hebrew text.†

Having the historical data in hand, we can understand some of the perplexing verbiage found in the New Testament as the authors quote or otherwise relate the Old Testament.  Since the gospel was going into a world that primarily used Greek for dealings across ethnicities, the apostles chose to use the Greek translation to write their documents and otherwise communicate the saving message of Christ.  What we now revere as the New Testament is written from a solid basis of doctrine founded in wording from the Greek translation of the Old Testament.  This in no way demeans what has been transmitted to us, rather it enriches our background knowledge of God’s Word.

If the apostles used the Greek to preach the gospel, how did we come to use the Hebrew for our English Bible translations?  The credit lies with Jerome.  At the time of commissioning to update the Latin translation of Scripture, he was living near Bethlehem.  He determined that the Old Testament translation work should come from Hebrew.  In this work, Jerome had one notable opponent in Augustine, who favored use of the Old Latin version that was translated from the Greek.  They had a lively, long distance debate about the matter, leaving both parties unmoved in their positions.  Jerome finished the Vulgate using the MT.  While this happened in the Western Church, the Eastern Church, ignoring the contention, continued to use the LXX as the basis of their Bible translations even to this day.

As research, I read three books from authors with various approaches:
  • Invitation to the Septuagint by Karen Jobes and Moisés Silva
  • When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible by Timothy Michael Law
  • First Bible of the Church: A Plea for the Septuagint by Møgens Müller
The first book is written by conservative authors with pedigrees in Evangelical circles.  The book is well-balanced, giving a thorough background and understanding of the different forces at work in producing the original Greek translations, revision attempts, and the ensuing text used in all parts of the Church.  The latter two books are written by those within a liberal camp that sees Christianity as a product of religious evolution, rather than divine revelation.  The difference is that Müller calls for Christians to use the Septuagint because the apostles used that to communicate their message, plus arguing that MT is uniquely Jewish and concluding that LXX is proper for Christian use.  After my reading, I wonder if the Church would not be better served using the Old Testament matching the apostolic witness.  Perhaps the Eastern Orthodox Church has been better served than the West by maintaining LXX for their Bibles.

Should we throw away our Bibles and order new copies with an LXX basis?  That is tempting, but we do not need to carry matters that far.  Any translation is still authoritative, as long as it is faithful to a solid text base, whether Hebrew or Greek.  However, this might be a worthwhile move.  If one wishes to secure an English copy of the Septuagint, they are readily available on-line and in print:

*  These are referred to as Byzantine, Western, and Alexandrian text families.
†  The compilation process was necessitated by the temple destruction in 70 A.D.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

2 Thess., Walters Ms. W.533
But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.  (2 Thess 2:13-15)

We shall sing the praises of the Source of the good things for granting you salvation and giving you a share in the Holy Spirit so that in your case as well He may be celebrated by all.  Keep as the norm of doctrine the words offered you by us, which we preached to you when present and wrote when absent.

Then he confirms the teaching with a prayer:
May He who loved those who hate Him, called those who are hostile, and gave them the hope of future goods strengthen you in the faith, so that you may be conspicuous for good works and similar deeds.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on 2 Thessalonians

How [were you chosen] unto salvation?  By sanctifying you through the Spirit.  For these are the things that are the efficient causes of our salvation.  It is not of works, not of righteous deeds, but through belief of the truth.… If Christ considers our salvation His glory, this too is no little thing.  For it is the glory of the Friend of man that they who are saved should be many.  Great then is our Lord, if the Holy Spirit so desires our salvation.  Why did he not say faith first?  Because even after sanctification we have a need of much faith that we may not be shaken.  Do you see how He shows that nothing is of themselves, but all of God?

John Chrysostom, Homilies on 2 Thessalonians, IV

Friday, September 16, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.  (2 Thess 1:11-12)

He said that they are glorified, so that they might even boast.  He said, what was much more, that they also glorify God.  He said that they will receive that glory.  But here too he means: For the Master being glorified, the servants also are glorified.  For those who glorify their Master, are much more glorified themselves, both by that very thing, and apart from it.  For tribulation for the sake of Christ is glory, and that thing he everywhere calls glory.  And by how much the more we suffer anything dishonorable, so much the more illustrious we become.  Then again showing that this also itself is of God, he says, “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ”; that is, this grace He Himself has given us, that He may be glorified in us, and that He may glorify us in Him.  How is He glorified in us?  Because we prefer nothing before Him.  How are we glorified in Him?  Because we have received power from Him, so that we do not at all yield to the evils that are brought upon us.  For when temptation happens, at the same time God is glorified, and we too.  For they glorify Him, because He has so nerved us; they admire us, because we have rendered ourselves worthy.  And all these things are done by the grace of God.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on 2 Thessalonians

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I Doubt It

Being a doubting Christian is all the rage again because it’s supposed to signal your humility and non-judgmentalism.  It’s mostly a way to avoid hard answers and actions that require a commitment to the truth.  For example, everyone agrees to disagree on abortion or fornication, but disagrees to agree on things like the Creeds and the Confessions.

So opines Tim Wood in describing All Souls Church of Austin, TX, which advertises on its main page: QUESTION EVERYTHING – Even your doubts.  This trend in Christianity to embrace doubt has become mainstream, and those with celebrity status—sadly, there is such a thing—have been leading the cause.  In past years, Brian McLaren and Rob Bell led the way by constantly asking, “What if?”  While the question may be legitimate, no answers were offered—only the constant plea to continue the conversation.

Some writers and speakers have even become established for promoting doubt in Christian circles.  One of the most notable is Rachel Held Evans who became the butt of a post on the satirical site The Babylon Bee entitled “Rachel Held Evans Suffers Momentary Lapse of Doubt” with the lede:
“Horrifying.” That’s how author Rachel Held Evans described a recent moment of absolute clarity, in which she found herself believing God’s Word without a twinge of doubt.
Satire works so well because of its underlying truth.  Evans and other writers/speakers have championed the cause of questioning formative Bible teaching, while the state of uncertainty has become the new spiritual norm for Christendom.

This worldview has been popularly named post-modernism, being a reaction to rationalism that preceded.  Thinkers began to notice that reason was unable to carry mankind to the next level, so some began to deconstruct the faultiness of what had been purported, but, along the way, also they did the same for truth.  What was readily established with physical evidence and natural law was brought into question in order to consider alternative realities based on personal or communal experience.  Universal constructs were eschewed.  We now live in a society relishing in the dismissal of natural law so that groups can live by their own standards.

While we might expect the world to cast off such restraint, we would not expect so of the Church, yet so-called forward-thinking writers within the Christian milieu have determined that culture is the norm and rule of faith, rather than Holy Writ.  In a further move to entice the world with supposed relevance, local evangelical assemblies are seduced into believing that we are not to hold onto truth, but let mutual circumstances and gathering points be our guide.  No longer should we affirm:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  (John 20:30-31)
No longer can we trust:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.  (1 John 5:13)
The mantra of relevance to which we might possibly cling (should we be so inclined) is now:
This is what Jesus means to me in my part of the journey, if you don't mind me saying that; and you can join in the same relationship, if you find yourself in a similar circumstance of life.
How does this help?  If we were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2:1-3), in what sense can we offer anything of ourselves that might help another?  We have nothing.  We can only point to and proclaim with certainty the revealed and attested truth of our most holy faith in the grand redemptive work of the Triune God, bound up in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.

An objection will be raised: “Doesn’t everyone have doubts?  I mean, even godly people in the Bible did.”  Yes, they did.
Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?  (Ps 10:1)
Will You forget me forever?  (Ps 13:1)
Awake! Why are You sleeping, Lord?  (Ps 44:23)
And that is only a small sampling.  Of course, there is doubt, because we do not know the end from the beginning, but in each case, there is the certain assurance of a God who is faithful in keeping His promises, who will act on behalf of His own.  We trust in that much as the desperate father who went to Jesus to cure his son: I believe; help my unbelief!  The father still had doubts about the final outcome, but he trusted in the ability of the One to whom he made his request.

We have a truth to proclaim—one which innumerable believers have died to uphold in stark contrast to the culture.  Let us consider so great a salvation.

You have been raised from your death.  Because Christ now lives and reigns, you too live.  Confess your faith boldly.  “This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.”  That isn’t a work to lead you toward righteousness.  Rather, it is a proclamation and confession that your sins have been burned away, and washed over by the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.  This reality is one to be boldly believed and unwaveringly trusted.  Trust it.  Repent, and believe the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Gaven Mize, “The Holy Trinity,” Gottesdienst Vol 24.2

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Storm-tossed, but Secure

He also commanded the storm, and it became a breeze,
    And its waves were still.
Then they were glad, for they were silent,
    And He guided them to the haven of their desire.  (Ps 107:29-30)

But we who hope for the Son of God are persecuted and trodden down by those unbelievers.  For the wings of the vessels are the churches; and the sea is the world, in which the Church is set, like a ship tossed in the deep, but not destroyed, for she has with her the skilled Pilot, Christ.  And she bears in her midst also the trophy (which is erected) over death, for she carries with her the cross of the Lord.  For her prow is the east, and her stern is the west, and her hold is the south, and her tillers are the two Testaments; and the ropes that stretch around her are the love of Christ, which binds the Church; and the net which she bears with her is the laver of the regeneration which renews the believing, whence too are these glories.  As the wind the Spirit from heaven is present, by whom those who believe are sealed: she has also anchors of iron accompanying her, viz., the holy commandments of Christ Himself, which are strong as iron.  She has also mariners on the right and on the left, assessors like the holy angels, by whom the Church is always governed and defended.  The ladder in her leading up to the sailyard is an emblem of the passion of Christ, which brings the faithful to the ascent of heaven.  And the top-sails aloft upon the yard are the company of prophets, martyrs, and apostles, who have entered into their rest in the kingdom of Christ.

Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist 59

Friday, September 9, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.  (2 Thess 1:11-12)

“For such reasons we persevere in praying for you, so that God may display you worthy of those good things to the enjoyment of which you have been called, filling you with every good and strengthening you, so that you may both show your faith in deeds and endure easily what is inflicted by the adversaries.  For in this way Christ will also appear glorious in you in the present age, when you are content to suffer for Him eagerly.  And you who have so steadfastly believed in Him will enjoy the glory to come, which by His grace He has promised to those who believe in Him.”  With these words he seems to have finished what was suitable to be said for praising them because they have stood fast in adverse circumstances and for exhorting them to continue to stand fast in the same purpose.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on 2 Thessalonians

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

[S]ince it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (2 Thess 1:6-8)

Damned in Hell (Venetian fresco)
We are obliged from time to time to recur to certain topics in order to affirm truths which are connected with them.  We repeat then here, that as the Lord is by the apostle proclaimed as the awarder of both the eternal sentences,* He must be either the Creator, or … One like the Creator—“with whom it is a righteous thing to recompense tribulation to those who afflict us, and to ourselves, who are afflicted, rest, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed as coming from heaven with the angels of His might and in flaming fire.”  The heretic, however, has erased the flaming fire, no doubt that he might extinguish all traces herein of our own God.  But the folly of the obliteration is clearly seen.  For as the apostle declares that the Lord will come “to take vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the gospel, who,” he says, “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power”—it follows that, as He comes to inflict punishment, He must require “the flaming fire.”  Thus on this consideration too we must … conclude that Christ belongs to a God who kindles the flames [of vengeance], and therefore to the Creator, inasmuch as He takes vengeance on those who do not know the Lord, that is, on the heathen.  For he has mentioned separately “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Now, to inflict punishment on the heathen, who very likely have never heard of the Gospel, is not the function of that God who is naturally unknown, and who is revealed nowhere else than in the Gospel, and therefore cannot be known by all men.  The Creator, however, ought to be known even by [the light of] nature, for He may be understood from His works, and may thereby become the object of a more widely spread knowledge.  To Him, therefore, belongs the right to punish such as do not know God, for none ought to be ignorant of Him.

Tertullian, Against Marcion 5.16

* I.e., heaven and hell; blessing and destruction

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Crucifying the Flesh

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  (Gal 5:24)

True believers are no hypocrites.  They crucify the flesh with its evil desires and lusts.  Inasmuch as they have not altogether put off the sinful flesh they are inclined to sin.  They do not fear or love God as they should.  They are likely to be provoked to anger, to envy, to impatience, to carnal lust, and other emotions.  But they will not do the things to which the flesh incites them.  They crucify the flesh with its evil desires and lusts by fasting and exercise and, above all, by a walk in the Spirit.

Martin Luther, “Homily on the Epistle for Trinity XIV”, Church Postil

HT: Wil Weedon