Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Evangelical fears and compromises

Various commentators from within evangelicalism are coming to the conclusion that has been obvious for a rather long time, that evangelicalism's greatest fear is at the heart of all its compromises. This is the fear of not being relevant or to use a more realistic term, fashionable. David F. Wells in his latest book 'The Courage to be Protestant' writes: 'Frankly, there is no judgment more to be feared than this: you are now passé. That weighs more heavily even than words coming from the great white throne at the end of time. Imagine that! Passé.'

He also writes in a collection of essays 'Reforming or Conforming? Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church': 'Evangelicals today are fearful, but they are fearful of all the wrong things. They are deeply apprehensive about becoming obsolete, of being left behind, so to speak, of being passed by, and of not being relevant'.(p. 48) It fits very neatly with marketing theory and practice which, through a very thin veneer, is driving much of the trends within evangelicalism.

Os Guinness has written a book 'Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance', he says that this desire to be fashionable (culturally relevant) is exactly why Christians are now becoming marginalized. Being fashioable means creating trendy worship services, writing books about how Christ can be seen in current movies, or mirroring hot bands playing on MTV. He says in a recent interview 'Evangelicalism has never chased relevance more determinedly than it does now. And yet, we've never been more irrelevant'. This undermines the authority of Scripture, and a loss of identity and continuity with the Church historically.

Wells observes that the fear of being irrelevant and unfashionable has been 'transferred' from liberals.
'This, of course, was the fear that haunted the older generation of Protestant liberals, so many of whom began their lives in evangelical homes. They were overwhelmed by the need to be relevant to the culture...Their conversation partner was the Enlightenment.

This lesson, however, is entirely lost on most evangelicals today. The reason is partly that they are treading a different path and so they do not see the parallels. Theirs is not the accommodation to high culture, as was the liberals'.

That culture was suffused with intellectual pride and humanism, with rationalism and hostility to Christian faith. It is now dying. The Enlightenment, from which much of it arose, has all but collapsed, as has the Christianity that had made itself into an ally.

The parallels between these older liberals and today's evangelicals are not in the culture to which they are accommodating but in the process of accommodation. Behind each is the same mind-set. The difference is only in what is being accommodated. And the dangers are all concealed beneath the apparent innocence of the experiment.

The fact is, however, that evangelical Christianity today is as endangered by its postmodern dance partner as the earlier liberals were by their Enlightenment partner'. (p. 49)

My view on this as evidenced in the secularisation of the Bible through inferior translation in the 20th century is here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Jacob as a type of Christ

Recently someone mentioned Jacob as a type of Christ. We know that there is much in Jacob that was sinful and certainly could never be typical of Christ. We must look at the types, however, in terms of their office and public role rather than their personal characteristics. Jonathan Edwards says in one of his letters that 'the word of God came to Jacob, as a type of Christ, 1 Kings 18:31'. the latter verse highlights Jacob's new name of Israel, this is also a name used for Christ in prophecy. It was promised to Jacob that he would become 'a multitude of people'(Genesis 28:3). In the Greek translation the Septuagaint, the word is ecclesia which is the Greek for Church. Israel means 'prince with God' and Christ is a Prince and Saviour, the prince of the kings of the earth.

Jacob was a type of Christ in his priestly office especially in Genesis 31:54. Before Aaron was High Priest the patriarchs as heads of households were priests and offered sacrifices which was afterward reflected in the passover where the head of the household sacrificed the lamb. Genesis 31:54 is also in the context of a covenant being ratified through a covenant meal see Exodus 18:12 and Ex 24.

We should look at the covenant blessing of Jacob (Genesis 27:29) and remember that Christ confirmed the promises made to the patriarchs in these covenants (Rom 15:8). The blessing 'Let people serve thee' and 'nations bow down to thee' is prophetic of Christ and only fulfilled in Him (Dan. 7:14; Zech. 8:23; Is. 60:12;Ps. 72:11). He also says 'Be Lord over thy brethren' and 'Let thy mother's sons bow down to thee' which is fulfilled in Christ (Phil. 2:11; James 1:1 1 Cor. 15:7). Jacob speaks of 'the children which God hath graciously given thy servant'; similarly to Christ who says 'Behold I and the children thou hast given me' (Heb 2:13). There is also a reflection of the love of Christ for His Church in that of Jacob for Rachel.

Sometimes particular identifications of typology can be controversial. Patrick Fairbairn in his volumes on Typology takes the Puritan Thomas Taylor to task for
some of the seventeen instances that he discovered between Jacob and Christ. Fairbairn said that Taylor does not scruple 'to swell the number by occasionally taking in acts of sin, as well as circumstances of an altogether trivial nature. Thus, Jacob s being a supplanter of his brother, is made to represent Christ's supplanting death, sin, and Satan; his being obedient to his parents in all things, Christ s subjection to His heavenly Father and His earthly parents ; his purchasing his birthright by red pottage, and obtaining the blessing by presenting savoury venison to his father, clothed in Esau's garment, Christ's purchasing the heavenly inheritance to us by His red blood, and obtaining the blessing by offering up the savoury meat of His obedience, in the borrowed garment of our nature, etc.'

Fairbairn says that 'the analogy they found upon was a merely superficial resemblance appearing between things in the Old and other things in the New Testament Scriptures. But resemblances of this sort are so extremely multifarious, and appear also so different according to the point of view from which they are contemplated, that it was obviously possible for any one to take occasion through them to introduce the most frivolous conceits, and to caricature rather than vindicate the grand theme of the Gospel'.

There are no doubt, however, many more correspondences between Christ and Jacob that I have not mentioned above which do not come under Fairbairn's censure.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Fashion of Feminism

Earlier this month the death of the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent was mourned. In his personal life he was promiscuous, bisexual, a drug addict and alcoholic which induced depression. In his work he was extremely influential.

The Guardian claimed that he "reworked the rules of fashion defining how modern women dressed". He has been described as "the French fashion designer who created a bold new dress code for women during the feminist revolution of the 1970s". The news agency Agence France-Presse elaborated on how he "changed the silhouette of 20th century woman with a daring new dress code". This refers to the fact that he invented and popularised the trouser-suit for women. The silhouette refers to the fact that gender distinction could be clearly indicated as it is in symbol form by the silhouette of a woman in a skirt and a man in trousers. His business partner comments. "He was the first to put women in pants, the first to put them in tuxedos, the first to put them in masculine clothes". “He transformed society and he transformed women.” The trouser suit has been hailed as the real birth of the feminist revolution of the 1970s and "what fashion gave to feminism." “Feminism was built on the trouser suit”. As commentators have pointed out he introduced this revolution when the French academic feminists were airing their views. Although there had been a similar expression of feminism by some women in the 1920s it was in the 1970s that feminism became truly popular. There were certain reasons for this. A Russian news agency points to the context of "massive popular cultural shifts of the 1960s, with sexual liberation, women's unprecedented economic freedom, and the rise of feminism".

In 1970 the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland took account of these sea changes in society in its rebellion against God's Word. Its resolution (reaffirmed in 2003) noted that there "is evidence that the "permissiveness" of the age has influenced the Church. In particular this is the case in the dress of the women, and in the hair styles of both men and women.

The Word of God demands of women that they be dressed in modest apparel, and the Synod urge the women of the Church to give heed to this counsel. Not only does it require modesty of dress but also distinction in dress between the sexes. The practice of men and women wearing clothes which obliterates this distinction is quite contrary to God's Word and expressly declared to be an abomination to Him. "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God" (Deut 22:5).

The Church must therefore condemn these practices as contrary to God's Word and direct her people to seek the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to enable them to live unspotted in the world."

Several articles in the Young People's Magazine give further guidance.
"Such also is the spirit of feminism, which tries to destroy all God’s distinctions between man and woman (Ephesians 5:21-32, 1 Timothy 2:9-15, 1 Peter 3:1-7). Holy Scripture also makes a clear distinction between male and female in dress: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 22:5). As John Calvin points out, this text is one of around 24 in Exodus to Deuteronomy which enlarge on God’s teaching of the Seventh Commandment. It is exceedingly solemn to despise any of God’s precepts. The Lord Jesus endured such suffering as no tongue can tell (Hebrews 2:10) when the wrath of God fell upon Him because of a broken law, to which He gave perfect obedience (Romans 5:19). That is our only hope of eternal life. Feminism is all about removing God-given distinctions between men and women. The items of clothing that, throughout Western society, have distinguished between men and women for hundreds of years are trousers and skirts. This is a clear distinction, still universally used today on buildings. God has made a clear distinction between men and women, but feminism rejects God and His Word. Those who fear God wish to cleave to His precepts. Thus, in their walk, and especially in His house, they honour Him by acknowledging this God-given distinction. “Why call ye Me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?” We grieve the Holy Spirit when we show some outward attachment to His people while following the fashions of this world. “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). How solemn to hear one and another say, “Well, X does it”...We are safe only when we follow Christ and His Word. Let God be true and every man a liar."

Another article by Rev Neil Ross addresses the issue.
"It is true that God looks on the heart, while man looks upon the outward appearance. But the outward appearance does matter; it is part of a Christian lifestyle. Take clothing, for example: certain ways of dressing can lead to sin, and so we should remember some Scripture principles.

First, Deuteronomy 22:5 teaches us that there ought to be a distinction between male and female in their clothing: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God”. Changes in fashion do not cancel out this principle. It was in the 1960s, says a writer on the history of fashion, “that the distinctions between clothing made for men and that made for women became less and less obvious”. The principle remains however: God has ordained that there be a clear distinction between the sexes. In our culture, the dress or skirt is still viewed as the distinctly female garment."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Why are the 10 Commandments addressed in the singular?

This is an important question. The original Hebrew is in the singular which is accurately reflected in the Authorised Version "Thou shalt not..." You is plural whereas Thou is singular. It does not say It does not say, "Do not kill" but "Thou shalt not kill".

Jewish writers and Rabbis have given many answers to this such as that they stood 'as one person of one heart', see here and here and here. For instance the first century AD Jewish writer Philo writes: "But why are the commandments formulated in the singular (Thou), when a multitude was present? Readers of the Holy Scriptures may learn from this that each individual who keeps the law and obeys God is as precious as the whole Nation, nay more, as the whole world. Another reason is that commands and prohibitions are more impressive if addressed to each individual in the audience." It highlights individual responsibility.

No doubt there is also something to be said for the fact that Israel is seen as the son of God, see here.

John Willison asks:
Q. Why doth this and the rest of the commands still run in the singular number, Thou, and not You?
A. Because God would have every man to notice the directions thereof as particularly as if they were spoken to himself by name.

It is "thou" not "ye," because each person is addressed separately as a distinct moral agent responsible to God for keeping the law. Willison also notes: "The Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, which were solemnly delivered to the people of Israel from Mount Sinai, do contain the moral law; being a fixed and perpetual rule of righteousness, which God hath given to be observed by all mankind, in all ages and periods, to the end of the world." The Larger Catechism reminds us:
"That the law is perfect, and bindeth every one to full conformity in the whole man unto the righteousness thereof, and unto entire obedience forever; so as to require the utmost perfection of every duty, and to forbid the least degree of every sin."

The puritan Thomas Watson answers our question:
"Because the commandment concerns every one, and God would have each one take it as spoken to him by name. Though we are forward to take privileges to ourselves, yet we are apt to shift off duties from ourselves to others; therefore the commandment is in the second person, Thou and Thou, that every one may know that it is spoken to him, as it were, by name." Some have said that we ought to put our own name as it were into the commandment in order to recognise our own responsibility.

James Ussher in his Body of Divinity answers the question as to why the commandments are addressed in the singular:
1. Because God being without partiality, speaketh to all men alike; as well the rich as poor, high as low.
2. Because no man should put the commandments of God from himself, as though they did not concern him: but every particular man should apply them to himself as well as if God had spoken to him by name. Whence we gather, that God wisely preventeth a common abuse amongst men: which is to esteem that which is spoken unto all men, to be (as it were) spoken to none. As you shall have it common amongst men to say and confess, that God is just and merciful, and that he commandeth this, and forbiddeth that: and yet they usually so behave themselves, that they shift the matter to the general, as if it did not belong unto them in particular; and as if they
notwithstanding might live as they list. And therefore every man is to judge and esteem that God speaketh in the law to him in particular; and is accordingly to be affected therewith.

We are addressed individually by God as sovereign. This is because as the puritan John Dod put it "self [is] our chief idol: So that every carnal man sets up himself, he does nothing but seek and serve himself and therefore is his own idol, and another god to himself".

There is also intimacy in the individual singular and personal address "thou". Thomas Boston shows that when we see the context of redemption in the Preface to the Ten Commandments we see the commandments in their correct light for the believer. "The ten commandments were not given to the Israelites as a covenant of works, but in the way of the covenant of grace, and under that covert. Ye saw it was Jesus the Mediator that spoke these, Heb. 12:24-26. Amongst all the reasons there is not one of terror; but the sweet savour of gospel-grace."

"All true obedience to the ten commandments now must run in the channel of the covenant of grace, being directed to God as our God in that covenant, Deut. 28:58. This is to fear that glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD. And so legal obedience is no obedience at all. This obedience is performed not for righteousness, but to testify our love to the Lord our Righteousness; not in our own strength, but in that of our Lord God and Redeemer; not to be accepted for its own worth, but for the sake of a Redeemer’s merits; not out of fear of hell, or hope to purchase heaven, but out of love and gratitude to him who has delivered us from hell, and purchased heaven and everlasting happiness for us."

"So far is the state of the saints from being a state of sinful liberty, that there are none so strongly bound to obedience as they, and that by the strongest of all bonds, those of love and gratitude, arising from the amazing and wonderful obedience and satisfaction which he has performed for them. So that the love of Christ will sweetly and powerfully constrain them to run the way of his commandments; for his commandments are not grievous, and in the keeping of them is a great reward. They will love him, because he has first loved them; and his love has flowed out to them in the crimson streams of their dear Redeemer’s blood, by which their sins are expiated, and their guilt atoned. And those to whom much is forgiven, will certainly love much."

"God might have required of us obedience by his mere will, without giving any other reason; and in that case, men had been bound to give it at their peril. But how much sweeter is the command, and agreeable what he demands, when he enforces the equirement he makes by such engaging motives, as that he is the Lord, a being possessed of all possible perfection, of every glorious attribute and excellency, the author of all other beings, and all the amiable qualities and attracting xcellencies of which they are possessed; that he is our God, related to us by a covenant, which he hath made with his own Son as our Surety and Saviour, and which is brought near to us in the gospel, that we may enter into the bond thereof, and the righteousness of which is brought near unto us, who are stout-hearted and far from righteousness, that we may accept thereof, and so be delivered from condemnation and wrath? How agreeable and ravishing is it to reflect, that he incites and prompts us to obedience, not by the authority of his absolute sovereignty over us, and undoubted propriety in us, but by the inviting and attracting consideration of the great deliverance he has wrought for us, of which the deliverance from the Egyptian bondage was a bright type!

Can we reflect on the great salvation wrought for us by Jesus Christ, by which we were saved from all the horrors of sin and hell, rescued from the power of Satan, and delivered from the present evil world, and the pollutions thereof; can we reflect on these great and glorious benefits, which afford astonishment to men and angels, and our hearts not glow with the warmest fire of love and gratitude to him who hath done such excellent things for us? Can we hesitate a moment to say, good is thy will, O God, just and holy are thy laws, and we will cheerfully obey what thou commandest us?"

We wonder why the modern versions see fit to obliterate the fact that we are personally and individually addressed in the commandments. They translate it as "you" and not "thou". Yet when we think that the Ten Commandments that were written by the finger of God and that He wrote in the singular what a fearful thing it is to alter this. The Lord also commanded Moses to keep the second set of Ten Commandments safe in the ark for a perpetual testimony (Deut 10:5). Does this not give particular reverence and care for God's written words? Why then have modern versions showed such contempt for this way in which God makes His sovereign will known?

There is in the Authorised Version a Bible that contains the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm as the man in the street knows them only. There is a Bible that carries a weight of authority and stirs a wealth of association for a significant proportion of our population. It is a Bible which alone addresses them as singular and as individuals in the way that God did at Mount Sinai.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Translation and the ministry of the word

Reformed theologians understood that while translation was necessary, and while they could convey the Word of God from the original Hebrew and Greek in substance, it could not be translated absolutely, perfectly, or exhaustively. This doctrine is classically expressed by Francis Turretin (cf. Francis Turretin, The Doctrine of Scripture trans. J.W. Beardslee III, Grand Rapids, 1981) but in the British post-Reformation context it may be discerned in the preface to the Authorised Version of 1611, ‘The Translators to the Reader’. Here it is asserted that in the sixteenth century English translations, ‘all is sound for substance’ (p.19). Slightly before this, the Elizabethan English Presbyterian Thomas Cartwright, responded to the criticisms levelled by the Roman Catholic translators of the Rheims New Testament with the tenet that ‘the title…the worde of God’ used in relation to translations ‘agreeth only to the truth of God, which hath also the frame of his words’ (Answer to the Preface to the Rhemish Testament, London, 1602, p.102). Like Calvin, he favoured essentially preserving the word order (T.H.L. Parker, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, Grand Rapids, 1971, p.102) in order to convey the majesty of the Scriptures. Calvin was well aware that Biblical Greek was not classical Greek: it was in fact more powerful, ‘the force of the truth of Sacred Scripture is manifestly too powerful to need the art of words’ (Institutes, I.viii.1). That is to say, it does not need to be revised according to classical taste in rhetoric and elegant style, it has a simple, clear and powerful style of its own.

It was widely recognised amongst the Reformed that preaching is able to supplement the deficiency of translations, and, moreover, that, as Beardslee explains, preaching ‘continues the work of Bible translation; hence the importance of an educated ministry’ (ibid. p.154, n.3). In their high view of preaching the Reformers held it to be the Word of God. Bullinger enunciates it in the clearest terms: ‘praedicatio verbi Dei est verbum Dei’ (the Word of God preached is in fact the Word of God) (quoted John R. Knott, The Sword of the Spirit: Puritan Responses to the Bible, Chicago, 1980, p.50). Likewise Calvin said that ‘[t]he Word of God goeth out of the mouth of God in such a manner that it likewise goeth out of the mouth of men; for God does not speak openly from heaven but employs men as his instruments’ (quoted Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin’s doctrine of the Word and Sacrament, London, 1953, p.82). We read of Ezra and his colleagues that ‘they read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading’ (Nehemiah 8:8).

Clearly, the Reformers were not claiming either ex cathedra infallibility or immediate inspiration for themselves as their Roman Catholic and Anabaptist opponents respectively asserted. The distinction between the substantial authority of translations and the total verbal authority of the original is perhaps helpful here. Preaching, inasmuch as it represented the Word of God faithfully, could in fact be termed the word of God. A similar distinction was made at the Westminster Assembly by George Gillespie, who held that truths established by logical deduction, that is ‘good and necessary consequence from scripture’ should be regarded as authoritative truth (cp. WCF and A treatise of the Miscellany questions, Edinburgh, 1649).

The Westminster Confession asserted ‘the majesty of the style’ of Scripture, an epithet that reflected Calvin’s emphasis. Thomas Cartwright likewise spoke of the ‘maiestie of th’authentical copies in the Greek’ (op. cit., p.93), while the discerning preface to the 1611 AV identifies the ‘perspicuity, gravity, majesty of the original Hebrew’ (p.21). William Perkins therefore recommended that pulpit speech be ‘simple and perspicuous, fit both for the peoples understanding and to express the Majestie of the Spirit’ (The Arte of Prophesying, quoted Knott, p.50 - my emphasis). In other words preaching should reflect the majesty of the Scriptures and should aim together with translation at least to be an echo of it.

The Westminster Directory of Publick Worship used similar phrasing in recommending that the minister ought to preache ‘Gravely, as becometh the word of God’ and in requiring him to abstain from ‘an unprofitable use of unknown tongues, strange phrases...sparingly citing sentences of ecclesiastical or other human writers, ancient or modern’. William Perkins had asserted that ‘[h]umane wisdome must be concealed, whether it be in the matter of the sermon, or in the setting forth of the words: because the preaching of the word is the Testimonie of God, and the profession of the knowledge of Christ not of human skill’, therefore a preacher must not ‘tickle the itching eares of his auditorie with fine ringing sentences of the Fathers but observe an admirable plainness and an admirable powerfulness’ (quoted Owen Watkins, The Puritan Experience, London, 1972, p.7). Preaching was to echo the plain powerfulness of the Scriptures themselves and to be informed by close study, in other words it must correspond to a large extent with translation.

In this way, the Divines maintained the careful balance set by the Refomers and their heirs that required learning on the part of a minister with the important qualification that it should not be paraded in the pulpit. They ‘presupposed (according to the rules for ordination) that the minister of Christ is in some measure gifted for so weighty a service, by his skill in the original languages, and in such arts and sciences as are handmaid unto divinity...all which he is to make use of and improve in his private preparations, before he deliver in publick what he hath provided’. Samuel Rutherford supplied the homely but pithy aphorism, ‘the pot may be used in the bilyng but not brought in with the porridge’ (quoted, R.S. Paul, The Assembly of the Lord, Edinburgh, 1985, p.365).

Certain sectarians in England, particularly leading Antinomians, opposed these views at the time. William Dell and John Webster attacked the emphasis upon learning the original Greek and Hebrew. Webster held forth in his tract Academarium Examinem that there could be no teachers, since only the Spirit could teach anyone. ‘To this I know it will be objected’, he said, ‘[t]hat schools teach the knowledge of tongues, without which the Scriptures (being written in the Hebrew and Greek) cannot be rightly translated, expounded, nor interpreted: and therefore it is necessary that Schools and Academies should teach these as properly and mainly conducible to this end’. Webster, however, could concede nothing to such objections, in his opinion languages had been changed and altered as ‘fashions and garments’ and in fact, whoever relies upon a translator is the same as anyone that depends upon a teacher (London, 1654, pp.6-7). Where this left the individual is hard to distinguish. Dell on the other hand simply rejected learning as necessary or prerequisite for the ministry (Christ’s Spirit a Christian’s Strength, London, 1651, p.22).

Rutherford took it in hand to reply to these directly, he emphasised the importance of all Christians having access to the Scriptures but not without what the Confession calls ‘a due use of the ordinary means’ for interpretation (I. vii). The grammatical-historical method could not be dismissed by appeal to the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, although the illumination of the Spirit was of course important. Rutherford could not see that those who ‘goe from weaving, sowing, carpentarie, shoo-making to the pulpit...being voyd of all learning, tongues, logick, arts, sciences, and the literall knowledge of the Scripture’ could make the dangerous claims that they made and allege a direct calling from Christ (A Survey of Spiritual Antichrist, London, 1648, vol. i, p.44-45). As Reformed theologians always emphasised, there must be a final appeal to the Hebrew and Greek, and there it was possible to refute heresies and ‘burie them by the power of the Word’. If the authority of ministers using the proper means of interpretation was rejected and ‘if interpretations be left free to every man’ chaos would ensue inevitably in ‘millions of faiths with millions of senses, and so no faith at all’ (A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience, London, 1649, p.28 & 32).

According to this view as well as that of the Directory, the minister is a specialist engaged in reproducing and applying the message of the Scriptures, or preaching. The minister is a specialist in the Scriptures and must be entirely acquainted with them. J. Gresham Machen, writing at the beginning of the 20th century, in an article entitled defends this principle powerfully ‘The Minister and his Greek Testament’. ‘[W]hatever else the preacher need not know, he must know the Bible; he must know it at first hand, and be able to interpret and defend it. Especially while doubt remains in the world as to the great central question, who more than the ministers should engage in the work of resolving such doubt - by intellectual instruction even more than by argument?’ The obvious conclusion, however, is that ‘this work can be undertaken to best advantage only by those who have an important pre-requisite for the study in a knowledge of the original languages upon which a large part of the discussion is based’ (The Banner of Truth, 103, 4/1972, pp.21-23).

The translators of the Authorised Version possessed these qualifications to an extraordinary degree. Some such as Miles Smith were so conversant in Hebrew that when called upon for the public reading of Scripture on one occasion he produced a small Hebrew bible without vowel points and read from it in ‘the English tongue plainely and fully’. The Westminster Form of Church Government had comparably high standards and required candidates for ordination to be examined by ‘reading the Hebrew and Greek Testaments and rendering some portion of some into Latin’. The problem is that (speaking in the context of the last two centuries) the university or the Academy has taken biblical studies away from the Church particularly with higher criticism and its results. Specialisation in the Scriptures no longer seems to serve preaching at all. Most mainstream evangelical preaching is remarkable if it achieves any depth of continuous concentration upon the Bible at all. While there is no need to introduce learning in itself one feels that learning must be of no real use in the preparation of such discourses.

Today, there is a priestly caste of academics speaking their own language to themselves and these ‘Biblical scholars have rather successfully convinced many in the community of believers that only they, the biblical scholars, can really appreciate the Bible. They are the only ones who can determine what it means. The rest of the community must sit up and listen to the biblical scholars explain what the Bible means’ (T.J. Keegan, Interpreting the Bible: A Popular Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, New York, 1985, p.9). Yet this coterie has produced no collective consensus on the meaning of Scripture in the way that Rutherford envisaged synods of ministers achieving and as was indeed the case in the great Reformed confessions and standards. The work of interpretation, however, ‘cannot be turned over to a few professors whose work is of interest only to themselves, but must be undertaken energetically by spiritually-minded men throughout the Church’ (Machen, op. cit., p.23).

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Church's Guardianship of the Oracles of God

The Westminster Confession, in its opening chapter emphasises that the Scriptures have been entrusted to the Church by the Lord, in order to ‘declare that his will unto his church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world’. Although the ‘authority of the holy scripture, for which it ought to believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God’, ‘We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverend esteem of the holy scripture, and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style’ etc.

Chapter 25 speaks of the ‘catholick visible church’, unto which ‘Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God’. This connection suggests that the guardianship of the Scriptures within the Church rests especially with the ministry, one may assume that the order is significant: to the Church the ministry is given, to the ministry the oracles and ordinances are specially entrusted. One of the proof texts here is a covenant promise in Isaiah 59:21 that seems to tie these elements together in saying ‘My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth shall not depart out of thy mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed , saith the LORD from henceforth and for ever’. The Confession does not explicitly draw our attention there but in speaking of the oracles of God we are reminded of I Peter 4:11, ‘If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God’, which seems to indicate the principle that preaching should echo the Scripture. Another passage that is quite clear, moreover, is Acts 7:38, which speaks of ‘the church in the wilderness’ ‘who received the lively oracles to give unto us’.

The Larger Catechism (Q156) together with the Directory of Publick Worship and the FPCG restrict the public reading of Scriptures to ministers. This is defended by proving that ‘the priests and Levites in the Jewish church were trusted with the publick reading of the word’ (Deut 31:9-11, Neh. 8:1-3, 13 & 9:3-5). The Divines concluded that the New Testament ministers correspond to the Priests and Levites (an interpretation that went back at least to the Second Book of Discipline in Scotland) ‘the ministers of the gospel have as ample a charge and commission to dispense the word, as well as other ordinances, as the priests and Levites had under the Law’. The basis for this was in Isaiah 66:21 and Matthew 23:34, where this identification is made, ‘under the names of Priests and Levites to be continued under the gospel are meant evangelical pastors’.

The Divines were clearly against any idea of a sacrificing priesthood and did not wish ministers to be known by the title of priest, but they recognised a typical correspondence which may be supplemented by texts such as II Chronicles 15:3& 17:7-9, Malachi 2:4&7, Micah 3:1, 1 Leviticus 10:11, Isaiah 30:20 and Malachi 3:3, since these texts emphasise the teaching responsibility of the priest and Levite and its future restoration under Christ. The Priests and Levites were the scribes of Scripture and received the deposit of the law in the Tabernacle (Deut 31:25-26, 1 Sam. 10:25, Deut 17:18, I Chron 2:55 ), during days of persecution, the priests kept the written word safely in the Temple (II Kings 22:8). ‘The priests lips should keep knowledge’ (Mal. 2:7), the very word of God should be stored upon his tongue: surely this is something of what ‘holding fast the faithful word’ means (Titus 1:9). The idea of the preacher as steward and guardian of the truth is of course well developed in the Pastoral Epistles (ITim. 1:3-5 &18-20, ch.4:7&14, ch.5:21, ch.6:12-14, II Tim. 1:13&14, ch.2:15, ch.3:14-16, ch.4:15).

This inference of guardianship has tremendous significance for the responsibilities of the minister as well as that of the role of bible translation. The Church has handed over its deposit in the present age when profiteering publishers can hijack the work of translation to ensure their own market niche. The Old Testament Church was extremely careful with the deposit of Scripture and its transmission. In the present era the Scriptures are patently being rewritten through the philosophy of dynamic equivalence.

The Church cannot be careless with the Scriptures. As Answer 54 of the Shorter Catechism reminds us, the third commandment requires of us ‘the holy and reverent use of God’s...Word’. If the Church and the ministry have been given a particular stewardship of the oracles of God then we must recall the principle in which the Head of the Church has instructed us. …unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more (Luke 11:48).

Friday, June 06, 2008

The mode of baptism as defined by John the Baptist

John the Baptist prophesied that the disciples being baptised by fire by the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit in the future.

Matthew 3:11: I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

Mark 1:8: I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.

Luke 3:16: John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:

John 1:32-33: And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.

When we look at the fulfilment of this on the day of Pentecost, we read:

Acts 2:1-3: And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

John Gill comments: "Through this baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire, the apostles became more knowing, and had a greater understanding of the mysteries of the Gospel, and were more qualified to preach it to people of all nations and languages. The Holy Spirit, in his gifts and graces, is compared to fire, because of its purity, light, and heat, as well as consuming nature; the Spirit sanctifies, and makes men pure and holy, purges from the dross of sin, error and superstition; and enlightens the minds of men, and gives them knowledge of divine and spiritual things; and fills them with zeal and fervour for the glory of God and Christ, and the good of his church and interest, and for the doctrines and ordinances of the Gospel; as well as fortifies them against their enemies, whom he consumes"

The company gathered was the 120 disciples which is significant, 12 the number of the church multiplied by 10 - the number of completion. This was symbolic of the baptism of the Church by the Holy Spirit.

But what do we read of this fire? Did they have to walk through it? Did it utterly engulf them? Rather it was merely cloven tongues of fire, individual tongues of fire divided and distributed "and it sat upon each of them". Appropriately it would have sat on their heads since it was symbolic of them receiving the Spirit to speak in other tongues. The next verse reads: "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance".

This was a baptism but the element was administered to the head only. This demonstrates that "Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary: but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person" (Westminster Confession of Faith).