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Author Archives: Jeremiah Blasi

Review of “One Bible, Many Versions”

“My work as a translator brought me to the realization that literal Bible versions in English often take turns being the most (or least) literal among their peers. . . I was shocked to find that not only are literal versions not always literal, but sometimes the notably nonliteral versions are more literal than the so-called literal ones.”  (p. 30)

“All translations use meaning-based translation principles to varying degrees.  It is not a question of whether or not translators will change the form but rather how much of the form will they try to preserve.  It appears that the one thing that is truly consistent in Bible translation is the fact that it is impossible to be truly consistent.” (p. 132)

The following is a helpful review of a recently published book. The review itself is well worth reading. The review was written by Doug Kutilek, and published in his monthly e-magazine. The magazine is free to subscribe, and contains helpful articles on diverse subjects. You can find more information at http://www.kjvonly.org/aisi/aisi_intro.htm.

One Bible, Many Versions by Dave Brunn.  Downer’s Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2013.  205 pp., paperback.

The author is “director of education for New Tribes Mission Missionary Training Center” (to quote the back cover) and was formerly phonetics instructor at the NTM Language and Linguistics Institute.  He is an experienced Bible translator, having made a translation of the Scriptures into Lamogai, one of the tribal languages of the interior of Papua New Guinea, a twenty-years-long labor.

Brunn discusses at length the theory and practice of Bible translation, particularly the tension between “formal equivalence” / “essentially literal” translations such as, e.g., the KJV, ESV and NASB, and “functional equivalence” / “meaning equivalence” versions such as the NIV, HCSB and NLT.  With numerous charts, he shows that while on the whole the ESV and NASB are more “literal,” there are numerous times where one or both of these abandon a formal equivalence translation for a meaning equivalence one, and in not a few of these cases, one or more of the meaning equivalence versions is more literal than the “essentially literal” versions!

While it is true that the form of the Scriptures in Hebrew and Greek is verbally-inspired, inspiration also includes the meaning of those words (see my article from As I See It 7:6, “Inspired Words and Inspired Thoughts, or Variant Readings in the Inspired Autographs”).  Sometimes strictly preserving the verbal form of the original–say, an infinitive, or a genitive case, or subjunctive verb form, or a participle, or an idiom–, would actually impede comprehension by the reader of the translation, and in such cases strict adherence to the form of the original would fail to convey the meaning of the original.  So there is always this tension: how literal is too literal?  How free is too free?  This is why Bible translation is commonly referred to as both an art and a science.

The issue of literal versus literary translation is less an issue in languages not related to Greek or Hebrew.  English is part of the same family of languages as Greek (Indo-European; of the 6,909 known living human languages, “only” 426 are I-E), and so formally and syntactically has many features in common with Greek, making literal translation possible much of the time.  But Hebrew is from a wholly unrelated family (Semitic) and so literal translation from Hebrew into English is much less often possible (anyone who has studied Hebrew and the OT original can testify that this is the case); on the other hand Hebrew can be much more readily and literally translated into other Semitic languages such as Aramaic, Syriac and Arabic.  But when you seek to translate both Greek and Hebrew into wholly unrelated languages such as Lamogai (or Japanese, Chinese or Swahili), it immediately becomes apparent that meaning must take precedent over form when the two are at odds, if the translation is to be intelligible and effectively and accurately communicate God’s inspired truth to the target people.

Among the difficulties every translator faces is dealing with the matter of gender in translation.  Some languages have three grammatical genders, some have two and some have none, possessing only “natural gender” or even none at all.  The nature and use of pronouns varies from language to language, and there is regularly an imperfect correspondence between languages, which renders formal equivalence translation impossible.  This requires adjustments and improvisation in translation.  The work of translation, if done accurately and intelligibly, is often extremely laborious and exhausting, and those who haven’t or couldn’t do it have insufficient appreciation for the difficulties that it involves.

The author affirms with entire justification that one major cause of much of the long-standing controversy in English over Bible translations is the monolingualism of our culture and of most English speakers.  Such is not the case in many other parts of the world–e.g., bi-lingual continental Europeans are commonplace, and tri- and quadra-lingual Europeans are not rare.  We on the whole don’t have the broad linguistic experience, exposure and knowledge to have a clear and well-informed perspective on the issue.

The author does not quote two of the most famous aphorisms regarding the issue of translations, though I am sure that he would affirm their accuracy.  The first is the Italian, “traduttori traditori,” lit. “translators are traitors,” that is, they always fail to do full justice to the text they translate in conveying its meaning but only its meaning in translation.  The second is the “golden mean” of translation: “As literal as possible, as free as necessary.”

It is suggested that a person should, if possible, regularly read both an “essentially literal” and a “functional equivalent” translation.  I whole-heartedly concur (see As I See It 10:3, “Which Bible–For Today?” in which I recommend two of each sort–NASB and ESV, and NIV (1984) and HCSB.  Decades ago (1965), F. F. Bruce produced a parallel edition of Paul’s epistles, The Letters of Paul, with the highly literal ERV of 1881 in parallel to Bruce’s own paraphrase of these letters.  I read it through with considerable profit.  Zondervan has a parallel NASB-NIV edition with an interlinear translation of the Greek text [Nestle 21st ed.]–a very handy format, especially for the beginning student of Greek.  I also own and use a parallel Spanish Bible with the RV 1960 and NVI, and a four-version Spanish NT, as well as a two-translation German NT with the Nestle Greek [26th ed.]).

Two subjects not addressed in this volume are 1. the matters of translator bias—corrupt theology and down-right dishonesty–which seriously, even fatally, mars the reliability and usability of such English versions as the Jehovah’s Witnesses New World Translation, the RSV and NRSV, the NEB and several others; and 2. translator competence, that is, does he have the necessary language and linguistic knowledge and training to produce an accurate and reliable version?  Brunn no doubt assumes that a Bible translator should be both honest and competent before beginning his work.  Oh, that all in fact were!

There are a few factual errors.  On p. 77, he writes as if Wycliffe made his translation from the Greek (logos) when of course his work was made from Jerome’s Latin translation of the Greek; and it is implied that Tyndale was influenced in his translation by Wycliffe, when this was almost certainly not the case (both knew and used the Latin Vulgate, which no doubt accounts for their common rendering in the place in question; Tyndale also had Erasmus’ Latin version and Luther’s German NT).  On p. 80, in quoting a word from the Greek of Rev. 22:18 (three times on the page), he gives the nominative singular “vocabulary” form logos instead of the form actually found in the text, logous, the plural accusative.  On p. 97, note 27, he inadvertently incorrectly inserts the words “of-the” in his literal rendering of a phrase from Matthew 1:6

This is an worthwhile book on the theory and practice of Bible translation, and will introduce that reader to the problems, pitfalls and possibilities of Bible translation in the modern era.  For those with limited or no foreign language training or knowledge, it will certainly serve as an eye-opener.  Some who are unjustifiably vehement in their opinions regarding English Bible versions might find cause for re-evaluation of some of their dogmas.

Doug Kutilek

Some quotations from One Bible, Many Versions.–

“My work as a translator brought me to the realization that literal Bible versions in English often take turns being the most (or least) literal among their peers. . . I was shocked to find that not only are literal versions not always literal, but sometimes the notably nonliteral versions are more literal than the so-called literal ones.”  (p. 30)

“All translations use meaning-based translation principles to varying degrees.  It is not a question of whether or not translators will change the form but rather how much of the form will they try to preserve.  It appears that the one thing that is truly consistent in Bible translation is the fact that it is impossible to be truly consistent.” (p. 132)

“In such a version as the one commonly in use [i.e., the KJV] in this country [i.e. England], there are scarcely two consecutive verses where there is not some departure from the original such as those indicated, and where these variations may be counted by tens of thousands, as admitted on all hands, it is difficult to see how verbal inspiration can be of the least practical use to those who depend upon that version alone.” (p. 162.  Quoting, not approvingly, Robert Young [1822-1888], famous for his analytical concordance of the Bible, and his literal English translation (1863).  Young strongly favored the translation principle of “as literal as possible, and then some.”  The quote is notable in being the opinion of a strong literalist toward the KJV’s frequent lack of literal translation–Editor)

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2014 in Bible Study

 

An Interpretation of Acts 1:1-8

Someone on a forum asked a question about the interpretation of Acts 1:6-8 in regards to the kingdom of God from the “Gospel Millennial” position, also unfortunately known as “amillennialism”. This is my attempt to give an answer.

Dispensational theologians break up the passage. They see Jesus speaking of the kingdom of God in verse 3, and then, in their minds, he drops this subject until the disciples ask about it in verse 6. I don’t believe he changes the subject back and forth, rather, he’s dealing with the kingdom throughout the passage.

Remember that Jesus has addressed the kingdom much already. He spoke much of it throughout the Gospel records. He told Pilate very plainly, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Now, he spends 40 days speaking of it to his disciples. To make the assumption that his teaching is substantially different here from what he’s been teaching throughout his ministry would be eisegesis.

Further, why would he spend 40 days teaching on something that wouldn’t really matter a bit in the lives of the disciples? According to DT, the disciples will go through their lives, suffering for something that Jesus promised but they would never see. And if he really taught of a physical, earthly reign of 1,000.000 years, how could he have missed teaching them concerning the timing of it?

Rather, consider that the entire passage is dealing with the same truth. Go back to verses 1-2: “…all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands…” Verse 3 tells us more about what he was teaching – “the kingdom of God.” Then verse 4 continues the theme. They are instructed to wait for the promise of the Father. What is that promise? The very thing he’s been teaching for the last 40 days: the kingdom! His continued statement of John’s baptism with water compared with the baptism of the Holy Spirit coming soon is simply an extension of that teaching. He does not give them a day, just tells them to wait for the promise. The Spirit will empower them, making it very clear that God is working through the church. Note the groups on whom the Spirit comes throughout the book of Acts – Gentiles and Jews alike, demonstrating the broken wall of partition.

In verse 6, when the disciples ask the question of timing, they are continuing the conversation. Jesus has said, “Wait.” He is now preparing to ascend, and they are assuming that the fullness of the promise is at hand. Their wrong assumption is that of the centrality of physical, geographical Israel in the kingdom (Israel is central, but it is as described by Paul in Galatians 4 and Romans 9/11). Far from ignoring their question, Jesus answers it by showing the universality of the spread of the kingdom.

“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” In other words, “Wait!” Do exactly as you have been instructed, and let God work in his own time. The kingdom will be manifested, but its fulness and consummation are up to God (compare Daniel 2 and 1 Corinthians 15).

“But you will receive power” – The promise of the Father, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the manifestation of the kingdom that were addressed in 3-5

“When the Holy Spirit has come upon you” – This is, I believe, a clear reference to Isaiah 32. The first verse makes it plain that “a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice.” Now note verse 15, to which I believe Jesus refers: “Until the spirit is poured upon us from on high…” The reference is plain. Read also Isaiah 44:3 – “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” Much prophecy is fulfilled at Pentecost, not only Joel 2!

“And you will be my witnesses” – Could it be another Old Testament reference? It sure is! Read Isaiah 43. God speaks there of gathering his seed from the ends of the earth. From the north, south, east, and west, he will gather all of his elect. How will he accomplish this work? Verse 10 says, “You are my witnesses…”, and again in verse 12, “You are my witnesses, declares the Lord.”

“In Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” – Yet another reference to Isaiah here: in chapter 49, God speaks again of gathering Israel (his elect) to himself. in the end of verse 6 he says, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

And just in case you try to say that those passages in Isaiah cannot be used in that manner in this “dispensation”, take note of how Paul himself uses those very passages. In Acts 13:47, he defends turning to the Gentiles based on the Lord’s command in Isaiah 49:6, the very passage quoted above!

Peter seems to follow this interpretation in chapter 2 as he speaks of the fulfilled prophecy of Joel, as well as the fulfillment of the covenant with David in Christ. Finally, note one other passage in Acts that supports the understanding that this was the belief of the apostles themselves. We’re all familiar with the dispute and resolution of the questions of law in chapter 15. Note James’ words in verses 14-18:

“Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
“‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’”

It just so happens that James is quoting from Amos 9:11-12, demonstrating that it is fulfilled exactly as God had promised!

Therefore, Jesus was not evading the question of the disciples. Rather, he answered it in a way that they clearly understood when the promise of the Father had come upon them.

I hope I have been clear. Even if you disagree, I trust you will see recognize the desire to carefully interpret Scripture.

Grace and Peace to you.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2014 in Bible Study

 

We Live If Ye Stand

Pastor Roy Johnson

Pastor Roy Johnson

Last Friday night, God called another special man home to heaven. Dr. Roy Johnson was my first pastor. Of course, I was completely unaware of the fact at the time, but his influence was far-reaching. The Lord saved my parents a month before I was born at Messiah Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas, where Dr. Johnson pastored. We were only there for a year, but God used his ministry to give my parents a solid foundation in biblical teaching that gave them a good start in spiritual discernment.

We came back to Messiah years later, during the first of my teenage years, but Dr. Johnson had retired by that time. Our fellowship was renewed when he joined the church my parents were members of a number of years ago. Over the past few years, I’ve been blessed by letters, an occasional phone conversation, and visits. I’ve had opportunities to talk to him about ministry issues, and just life in general. 5 years ago, Dr. Johnson was on my ordination council when I began pastoring Grace Baptist Church. I’m grateful to have been influenced by a man who has served the Lord faithfully for many years.

Dr. Johnson

Dr. Johnson

I was blessed to be able to take part in his funeral service yesterday (September 12). I played the piano for the congregational music, and my wife and I sang “New Grace”. The preacher who gave the message mentioned Hebrews 12, where it is said of Adam, “he being dead yet speaketh.” He asked all the preachers in the audience to stand. There were probably 30 preachers and missionaries in attendance whose lives had been touched by Dr. Johnson! That’s only a small sampling of all the others scattered around the globe. As I thought on this, I was once again reminded of a verse that holds a special place in my heart.

“And now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.”

     – I Thessalonians 3:8

One of my greatest memories of my time at Crown College in Powell, Tennessee was the baccalaureate service on the Sunday evening prior to my graduation. It was a great relief: 4 years of schooling were over! I learned much in those years, developed many friendships, and met and married the love of my life. Out of hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours of listening to Bible classes, sermons, etc., the message Clarence Sexton brought that night from I Thessalonians is the one that has stuck with me since. Maybe it was the timing of the service, but I think it was the content of the message that made such an impact. I remember the outline he used (I may have a word off, but I think it’s the same!).

Pastor and Evangelist Forrest Keener

Pastor and Evangelist Forrest Keener

The point is this: As long as we remain faithful to the things we have been taught, those who taught us continue to live. Paul could not remain constantly with the Thessalonians. But while they heeded his instruction to take heed for the coming of the Lord, and continued in faith and charity, he would remain with them through their obedience. I’ve been blessed to have known many faithful preachers of the gospel who have passed on. I think of several college professors who taught me much: Keith Kiser, and his love for the Word of God; Richard Worsham, and his tenacity and desire for God to work through the ministry of the church; Forrest Keener, with a steadfast focus on the great truths of God’s Word; Jim Gaylor, and his tenderness for God’s people; Roy Johnson, with a real pastor’s heart; and others that have been a personal encouragement to me.

If we are to be faithful, how must we stand?

Stand Convincingly.

There are many who are wishy-washy in their beliefs. They never want their positions to be nailed down.

When it comes to the great truths of the gospel, we must be grounded in conviction. There are too many issues of great importance that require a solid biblical answer. When dealing with the world, we must take strong positions on the issues of our day: child murder, the desecration of marriage, the culture of death, the glamorization of sin, etc. Even among believers (and professing believers) we must be willing to stand on important things: the centrality of the gospel, the sufficiency of Christ, the authority of the Scriptures, the nature of God and man. We must seek to establish scriptural convictions and drive them a mile deep.

Stand Compassionately.

Far too often, those who lay claim to strong convictions are unable to draw the line between those who are active rebels and scorners, and those who are simple fools, blindly following the culture. Jesus was not afraid to castigate the religious hypocrites who made their proselytes two-fold children of hell, but never fail to take note of the mercy he expressed to sinners. Yes, there are times when faithful Christians must be bold in condemnation of wickedness. There are also opportunities to minister by compassion. That does not indicate a need to compromise biblical conviction, but requires an understanding of the fact that the people of God are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. We must stand with conviction, but may we do so with great compassion as well.

Stand Continually.

There are many who begin. Take the parable of the seeds and soils. Many receive the Word with joy, but soon the enthusiasm is choked out by the cares of the world. One who stands fast must have a life marked by patient endurance. Demas started, and seemed to be strong. But he soon forsook the ministry, having loved the world. Judas was one of The Twelve. The other disciples seemed to have trouble believing that he would be the betrayer. Yet he had a part in the crucifixion of our Lord. But consider the testimony of those who endure to the end! Jeremiah was told that his preaching would be resisted. Yet it is Jeremiah who writes of mercies that are new every morning toward the end of his life! Job was assaulted by great trial. But he recognizes God’s hand in it all: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” Joseph endured years of mistreatment before God lifted him up. Moses experienced 80 years of the school of hard knocks before God used him to deliver Israel. Abraham waited 99 years for the son of promise. Yet in each of these, God proved Himself faithful.

You see, the emphasis is not on the perseverance of the man. We are certainly instructed to apprehend. But we must not be focused on the fact of our faith. Rather, our life is tied up in the OBJECT of our faith. We can stand continually only because Christ has gone before us! It is he who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, and is now set down on his throne. Because He lives, we too shall live. What mercy it is that he has not only given himself as an example, but also given us faithful men for us to follow as they followed Christ.

I’m grateful for each of the special people that have influence my life. Some have gone on to glory. Others remain on this earth. May we stand fast in the Lord, that the cloud of witnesses may live on through our faithfulness.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2013 in Bible Study

 

No Fault Found in Him

daniel-in-the-lions-denI’ve been thinking a lot lately about our relationship to the government. Early this year, there was a big brouhaha over gun control, which, thankfully, did not result in greater restrictions. Yet. No doubt that will happen at some point, but I’m grateful for our current liberty.

Most recently in my thought process was the New Mexico Supreme Court decision, in which it was stated that a photographer has no right to refuse services to a “commitment ceremony” involving two homosexual participants based on religious conviction. Justice Bosson stated in his opinion that religious compromise is “the price of citizenship.”

Certainly, numerous other examples could be stated which challenge every Christian. We have been commanded to be in subjection to the authorities God has placed over us. At the same time, we ought to obey God rather than man. This is a difficult topic for all believers. It is not one which should be approached lightly, and deserves much prayer, study, and prior determination.

Peter writes that governments are appointed for the punishment of evildoers. Throughout history, that has largely proven true. Even godless governments tend to enforce laws that uphold the Ten Commandments: do not murder, do not steal, etc. Granted, they do not uphold them for the right reason (glory of God), and they are selective by ignoring the First Table of the Law, but they do punish genuine evildoers. Paul also writes in Romans 13 that rulers are not a terror to those who do good works. Once again, that is generally true. Obedience to the law, as a whole, means that one has nothing to fear from his government (political considerations aside for the moment!).

Ultimately, what is the responsibility of Christians? I believe the basic principle is stated clearly in the book of Daniel. The young Hebrew had been given much authority and influence in the kingdom. By the reign of Darius, Daniel’s wisdom and spirit had been noted by many in positions of power, especially the king. Daniel 6 notes that Daniel was placed at the top of three presidents who were directly accountable only to the king. Yet he was hated by those under him. This was certainly because of his heritage as one of the exiles. As a foreigner, from a conquered country, how could he rise to such prominence above natives of the land?

Those other governors did their absolute best to trap Daniel. They watched his life, no doubt with the lawbook in hand, seeking to find him in violation. But they could find no fault in him. His lifestyle was blameless, both in moral character and in obedience to the laws of the land. Yes, he perfectly followed the legal system of a pagan culture. And we complain about our laws! He was found faithful, not by a group of peers, but by his enemies. What a testimony he had.

Since the princes could not find Daniel in violation of the law, they had to find another way to snare him. Daniel 6:5 tells us of their plan:

We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.

Ultimately, the only fault they could find in Daniel was by manufacturing a law that would punish Daniel’s faithfulness. They recognized his absolute conviction by recognizing that a law in contradiction to God’s would force Daniel’s disobedience. They went to Darius and tricked him into signing a law against petition to any but the king. The law was signed, Daniel was found in violation, and he was cast into the den of lions. We know how God chose to deliver Daniel and glorify Himself.

That should cause us to consider our own lives. If we are honest, most of us would have to admit that one trying to find fault would probably not have to go to these lengths. That’s a convicting thought! On the other side of it, using the same tactics the princes used with Daniel may not work simply because we would obey the law rather than suffer the consequences.

May God grant us the wisdom and character of Daniel.

Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him. Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God. (Daniel 6:4-5)

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Bible Study, Daniel, Devotional

 

Oklahoma History Lesson

After having dug to a depth of 10 feet last year, New York scientists found traces of copper wire dating back 100 years and came to the conclusion that their ancestors already had a telephone network more than 100 years ago.

Not to be outdone by the New Yorkers, in the weeks that followed, a California archaeologist dug to a depth of 20 feet, and shortly after, a story in the LA Times read: “California archaeologists, finding 200 year old copper wire, have concluded that their ancestors already had an advanced high-tech communications network a hundred years earlier than the New Yorkers.”

One week later, a local newspaper the Sterling News reported the following: “After digging as deep as 30 feet in his pasture near Sterling, OK, Bubba, a self-taught archaeologist, reported that he found absolutely nothing. Bubba therefore concluded that 300 years ago, OKLAHOMA had already gone wireless.”

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2013 in Funny

 

A Chiastic Structure of Redemptive History

I’ve been doing some thinking on the chiastic structure of the Bible. If you’re not familiar with chiasmus, you should be – check it out on Wikipedia. It is a fascinating device that is often found in the text of Scripture, and can help clarify difficult parallelisms. 

A     Before time – the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world to redeem a people to Himself

     B     At the beginning of time – the Garden of Eden, in perfection, with man who was created in the image of God, but with the ability to sin

          C     During time – God reveals a covenant to save His people – progressively [to the Jews] through Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets

               D     The Law demands perfect righteousness

                        X     The center of all History is the event of the Lamb slain

               D’     The perfect righteousness of the Law is fulfilled

        C’    During time – the New Covenant, as the fulfilment the old, is fully revealed to the people of God, Jew and Gentile alike through the writings of the apostles

   B’     At the end of time – the New Heavens and the New Earth, where that “Garden” is restored, and our nature is restored, this time lacking the ability to sin because of that Lamb slain!

A’     After time – the eternal worship of the Lamb slain by those whom He redeemed

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2013 in Bible Study, Doctrines of Grace

 

The Author of Hebrews

ms2648 Hebrews 4:8I have recently begun preaching a series through the book of Hebrews.  This is not an easy undertaking, as I recognize that Hebrews is considered one of the most difficult books in the New Testament.  However, it is the direction toward which I felt God leading me.  The challenge of it will keep me on my toes, as I desire to be faithful to the message that God has given to His people.  It is a difficult book, but is is also an amazing book.  Along with the difficult passages to interpret, it also contains some of the clearest passages in Scripture on God’s preservation of His people, and on the high priestly ministry of Christ.

As I began the study, I reviewed and considered my opinion regarding the human author of Hebrews.  I was prepared to spend 15 or so minutes discussing possible authors, and the reason for my own thoughts on the subject.  However, as I continued studying the issue, I came to a completely different conclusion.

As you read each of the epistles, they begin with a greeting from the human author (recognizing, of course, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit resting squarely underneath each).  For example:

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, -Romans 1:1

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. -James 1:1

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ: -II Peter 1:1

The elder unto the well-beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth. -III John 1:1

Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called. -Jude 1:1

Get the picture? It’s the same for each of these epistles (and most of the others). But, when we come to the epistle to the Hebrews, the pattern seems to be different:

God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

-Hebrews 1:1-2

Why would God see fit to change the format from other epistles, and, on top of that, not clearly indicate from whose pen these words flowed? I believe the answer is very simple: the format is the same!

The truth is that nothing in God’s Word is done arbitrarily. Many times we may not understand God’s reason for the way something is expressed, but we must come to this Book with the presupposition that it has very definite purpose and meaning. The introduction to the book of Hebrews is no different. In this case, I believe that God is simply emphasizing the fact that He wrote the book! The message is spoken clearly in the first few lines. It is simply that God hath spoken by His Son. The theme is then developed that He is better than the angels, and as such, we must pay attention to His Word. All of the warnings in this book flow from that truth. All of the exhortations given are true because He hath spoken by His Son.

Therefore, we see that the familiar pattern for the epistles has not changed.  God simply emphasizes divine authorship in a special way with the opening phrases of this wonderful letter.

When I came to this realization, I put aside my opinions concerning the human author.  I still have an opinion, but I no longer think it matters!  I was ready to argue it, and perhaps I still will, but it is not the issue to focus on.  Rather, let us remember that God wrote the book, and it is for this reason—not the supposed authorship of Paul, or Apollos, or Luke, or whoever else you may think penned it—that we must read it, study it, memorize it, mediate on it, and heed it.  May God illumine us with His Holy Spirit to understand His word and obey it!

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Bible Study, Hebrews, Inspiration

 

Is God’s Call Sincere?

Those who reject the doctrines of grace often have misunderstandings which lead to an improper understanding of God’s work in salvation. I know because I have had the same misunderstandings, and asked the same questions! It was not until I allowed God’s Word to speak for itself that the answers to the questions became clear—or I realized that the answers to some questions are part of the secret things of God and will not be revealed on this side of glory. Recently, I was posed with one such question:
Is God’s call to repent sincere to those who He knows cannot heed such calls?

I would respond with an equally important question: Is God’s call to holiness and obedience of the law sincere to those who He knows cannot heed such calls?

Of course it is sincere. And there will never be a sinner who desires to repent and come to Christ who finds himself unable to do so–because without God’s grace in the first place, he has no desire to repent.

This is a common straw-man, based on a misunderstanding of what spiritual death means. Man is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). Those who disobey God’s command do so because that is what they desire due to their nature. The truth is that God does not have to force any man to remain in his sins and refuse Christ. The opposite is true: without the drawing of the Father, man will continue to refuse (John 6:37-44).

This very question is what Paul anticipated in Romans 9 when he said, What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. Is God unrighteous and unjust because He has chosen to mercy some and not others? No, He has done what He will for His eternal purpose. And again in verse 19: Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? In other words, “Since God has not enabled an individual to respond in faith and repentance, is He not unjust since He has commanded something that the individual cannot do?” Paul’s response is to rebuke us for replying against God.

It is not for us to reason how it works together. We must recognize that we serve a holy, righteous, just God, and that He will do what is best.

Soli Deo Gloria.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Doctrines of Grace

 

The Altar Call

The invitation/altar call as it is practiced in many Baptist churches is a relatively modern invention, beginning in the revivals of Charles Finney, who was heretical in a number of areas. This is not a biblically mandated practice. It is not clever emotional and psychological appeals we need, but the work of the Holy Spirit in hearts! Calling men to trust Christ does not include physical activity. The gospel call is not “Come forward to this old-fashioned altar”, but “Cast your soul at the mercy of Christ!”

Often, the altar call produces false professions of Christ. How many people have you spoken to that claim to have come forward at a meeting sometime who do not display the fruits of righteousness? How many of those are baptized and added to the church? It is not an altar call that we need, but a plea for men to put their trust in Christ, and faith in the Holy Spirit to do that work! As God works, His Word will not return void, and men will be saved. When they are saved, it will be evident by their testimony, and their obedience will cause them to present themselves for baptism.

Spurgeon said the following regarding this system:
“Men will say, ‘I should like to go to the inquiry room.’ I dare say you would, but we are not willing to pander to popular superstition. We fear that in those rooms men are warmed into a fictitious confidence. Very few of the supposed converts of inquiry rooms turn out well.
“Go to your God at once, even where you are now. Cast yourself on Christ, at once, ere you stir an inch!”

May God give us a passion to plea for souls, and trust Him to do the work of converting them!

 

Brief Commentary on Ephesians 2:1-7

Ephesians 2: The chapter begins, “You who WERE DEAD in trespasses and sins.” What does dead mean? Simply a sentence of death? God told Adam that he would die IN THE DAY that he ate of the tree. Did God mean what He said? Notice what the death is – not you WILL be dead BECAUSE OF your sins, but you WERE dead IN trespasses and sins. This is speaking of a spiritual REALITY, not simply a physical picture. Just as verse 6 tells us that we ARE sitting in heavenly places WITH Christ – not simply a future promise, but a present spiritual reality, even though it is not yet physical (that will be in the ages to come!).

What is the fruit of this deadness IN sin, i.e. spiritual death?

Verse 2 – “ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air.” Walking according to the world is not what CAUSES that death (as you are trying to make it say), but the result of the death that we were already partakers of. BECAUSE we were dead in sin, we walked according to the way of life of the world system. We walked according to the devil, BECAUSE of who we already were – dead in sin. We already were children of disobedience – we had no desire to do that which is truly pleasing to God (don’t confuse morality/conscience with true spirituality).

Verse 3 – “we all had our [behavior] in times past in the lusts of our flesh” – that is, whatever our flesh wanted, in which, according to Paul, dwells NO good thing “”fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind;” – “desires” could be translated “will”. In other words, our will was bent toward the flesh and our understanding, which is devoid of any spiritual understanding prior to regeneration. That’s the problem with our will – yes, it is free to do whatever is in our nature. And it did – not that which is pleasing to God, but that which is according to the world, the devil, and our own flesh.

“and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” – our NATURE (inborn quality, not just a “habit” that we grown into) was children of wrath. The word “children” used here emphasizes natural birth. That is we were born into wrath; it is our nature, what we deserve. That paints a bleak picture. We can’t escape that wrath ourselves, by any good we try to do, or by any decision we make, because we don’t desire those good decisions to begin with.

“But God” – what wonderful words! “who is rich in mercy” – mercy is not just “withholding the punishment I deserve”, which is the definition commonly given, but is something active which God bestows which we are unworthy of. Most of the OT uses of the word “mercy” are a word which is translated in the ESV “steadfast love”. From my study of the word, that’s a beautiful translation, and very apt for the word. NT usage is not precisely the same, but very similar in many ways. Notice that, even here, the mercy is connected with His love: “for His great love wherewith He loved us” – A side note here: who is “us”? It is a pronoun used often throughout the epistles, and very important!

What did that great love cause Him to do? “Even when we were DEAD in sins” – nothing we could do about it, not even “belief” would change that condition, just as Lazarus could not raise himself from the dead!

“hath quickened us together with Christ AND hath raised us up together” – What is quickening? Is it merely the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us? No. That may be involved, but that’s really a different aspect of salvation, directly connected to justification. Yes, they’re related topics, but mixing them up only leads to confusion (look at how the Roman Catholics have made such a mess of salvation by mixing up justification and sanctification – which are also related, but must be properly understood!).

The phrase, “hath quickened us together with” is actually one word in the Greek. A clear reference is being made here to the resurrection of Christ. What was Christ resurrected from? The DEAD! Was He merely under a sentence of death? Did He merely swoon in the grave and had to be made alive? That’s nonsense! The clear meaning of the word is that LIFE was imparted to something that was DEAD! We were quickened and raised up “together with” Christ! This is not a death sentence that was torn up and nailed to the cross (although yes, that also happened according to Colossians 2!) – this is a dead corpse having life breathed into it! As a result of this life that has been given, we are now SEATED WITH Christ in the heavenlies – that’s not just a promise of what is to come, but a present spiritual reality (just as spiritual death was a reality before quickening), as proof that in the ages to come we will experience the exceeding riches of his grace that has been extended to US (there’s that pronoun again!).

A very apt OT illustration of this truth is found in Ezekiel 37. It is argued that this has nothing to do with salvation, and is only dealing with a physical restoration of Israel to the land. What nonsense. If that is the explanation of OT prophecy, it is very shallow. Note verses 12-14 of that chapter: “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your GRAVES, and CAUSE you to come up OUT of your GRAVES, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the LORD when I have OPENED your GRAVES, O MY PEOPLE, and brought you up out of your GRAVES, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live…” That’s far deeper than simple restoration to a physical land. That’s a spiritual reality! If you read Ezekiel without seeing Christ in the book, it will be very dry and meaningless. If you read this book without NT interpretation, you will completely misunderstand the book! It is an illustration of God breathing His spirit into dead bones, causing them to live! That is exactly what He did for me.

Praise His holy name! His thoughts are so much higher than our thoughts – this is an impossible work without a supernatural Saviour!