Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Brief Study of the Doctrine of the Trinity, Part 2

A. First, there is only one God.
   1. The Trinity is NOT the teaching that there are three gods.
       a. Is. 43:10; 44:8
      b. What is a Being? Being (or essence or substance) is what makes something what it is, and distinguishes it from everything else.
     c. A human is a being: a human being. Angels are a certain kind of being different from humans. God is the only divine being. He alone possesses the being of God. No creature can share in the being of God. That being is spiritual, personal; transcendent and immanent.

  2. We see the oneness of being in the oneness of name. The Trinity has only one name – shares the one name – in the baptismal formula.
      a. Matt. 28:19, “baptizing in the name (not “names”) of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” All three Persons of the Trinity have the name of God.
     b. The Father is called God, the Son is called God, the Spirit is called God; the Father is called Lord, the Son is called Lord, the Spirit is called Lord. Yet, there is only one God, only one Lord (Deut. 6:4).

B. Second, within the one Being of God are three Persons.
   1. What is a Person?
      a. A person is that which in an individual says, “I.” The person is the subject (the one doing) of all the activity of an individual. From the beginning of your life to the end and into eternity, you will have the same person. Much changes; your person does not. Also, a person is self-conscious and conscious of that which is outside of himself. Thus, human beings are also human persons. You say, “I.”
  2. We are one being and one person, but God is one being and three persons. There are within the being of God three distinct individuals who say, “I;” Three who know themselves and know others; three active, living, willing, thinking individual Persons.
      a. The Father knows Himself, and He knows the Son and the Spirit and He says, “I.”
      b. The Son knows Himself and He knows the Father and the Spirit and He says, “I.”
      c. The Spirit knows Himself and He knows the Son and the Father and He says, “I.”
  3. But, remember, these are THREE distinct persons.
     a. The Father is not the Son, nor the Spirit. The Son is not the Father, nor the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Father, nor the Son.
      b. And yet, they can never be without one another or separated from one another.
      c. This is contra Modalism: Modalism teaches that there is one Person in the Godhead who manifests Himself in different modes at different times. Sometimes, God is Father; sometimes, Son; sometimes, Spirit, but there is only One Person, not three.
   4. How would you prove the Trinity from Scripture?
      a. First, there is no verse that proves the Trinity by itself. Matt. 28:19 and II Cor. 13:14 come close.
      b. Second, prove it along these lines: The Bible ascribes the names, attributes, worship and works of God to each of the three Persons.

All analogies fail. But we know why they fail: God is infinite; we are finite. The body/soul/spirit analogy, or father/son/husband analogies are heretical because they are modalistic.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Brief Study of the Doctrine of the Trinity, Part 1

One of the biggest lies you’ll ever hear about the Trinity is that it was invented at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. This is the Liberal nonsense you’ll hear on the Discovery Networks or from the Dan Brown types. One of the easiest ways to refute this is the fact that the term “Trinity” appears in Christian literature about 150 years before Nicaea.

The term first surfaces in an Apology for Christians written in the 170’s A.D. “Apology” does not mean ‘saying you’re sorry;’ rather it is a reasoned defense of the faith. The 2nd Century was replete with such “apologies” and most of the important Church writers of that era are referred to as the “Apologists.” The earliest written instance of the term Trinity appears in the Apology of Athenagoras of Athens - (died ca. 185). This is incredibly important for a couple of reasons:

(1). The term is simply stated, not lugged in as something novel, meaning it was not an innovation in the 170’s. He refers to something as a “type” of the Trinity, suggesting that he had written on the subject before, or, at least, that others had.

(2). This is an apology, which means it was written to an unbeliever.

Right around the same time, the Carthaginian theologian, Tertullian (155-230), used the term as well. However, Tertullian’s use was not a mere mention of the term. He used the terms Essence and Person, which are the standard terms – in the exact way that Nicaea affirmed their usage – again, nearly 150 years before Nicaea. And by 206, at the latest, he had written a defense of the Trinity against a Modalist named Praxeas.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the heart of the Christian faith. This doctrine has always been seen as a necessary element of Christianity, one that cannot be surrendered without destroying the faith itself. We, of course agree with Luther that the doctrine of Justification by faith alone is the doctrine by which the Church stands or falls. But we should hasten to say that the doctrine of the Trinity, because it deals with the essence of God Himself, precedes all doctrine. It is therefore the safeguard of the faith.

One need not be a genius to realize that something that is never taught or preached about is either not important or not true. How are millions of professing Christians supposed to believe that the Trinity is true, and that even if it is true, that it makes a difference anyway, if they never hear the doctrine explained? The simple fact is: they won’t. That’s what we’re here to do, and the leadership of CtK is to be highly commended for placing emphasis on Christian education.

Why, though, we might ask is the Trinity, generally speaking, such a neglected doctrine?  It is my considered opinion that the explanation for this neglect lies in our sinful nature’s proclivity to self-righteousness. Like Cain, we are always trying to commend ourselves to God with our works. Hence, the only doctrines we care for are those from which we can derive a moral application. Every time we read the Bible, instead of seeing what God has done for us in Christ, we ask, “What do I have to do?” If we can’t take something home with us to DO, then we don’t value it.  This is Law, not Gospel. The Law says, “Do this and live.” Whereas the Gospel says, “Live, because Christ has done this for you.”

Let’s consider this: If it the doctrine of the Trinity be true, because it is a truth about God, then it is of infinite importance. There are two simple yet important reasons why the Church must hold fast to the doctrine of the Trinity.

1. For the sake of God’s glory. God must be distinguished from false gods. God must be worshipped as He has revealed Himself. He has revealed Himself as Triune. Worship of anything less is idolatry. Anyone who denies the Trinity is, ipso facto, an idolater.

2. For the sake of our salvation. No one is saved without knowledge of the Father. But the Father is not known without the Son. Scripture says, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). And, “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father” (1 John 2:23). Further, no one is saved without faith in the Son: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed, and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard” (Rom. 10:14). Similarly, no one is saved without knowledge of the Spirit. Scripture says, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9). No one receives the Spirit without knowing Him; for Christ says, “Whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him” (John 17:17). It is necessary then, that for anyone to be saved, he must know the Triune God.

Therefore, the doctrine of the Trinity is not so much a point among many as the very essence and compendium of Christianity itself.

1. Remember that God is personal: He is not abstract but He is a living, thinking, willing, conscious Being.
2. God is personal but He is also a plurality of persons.
3. We confess with the orthodox church of all ages the doctrine of the Trinity, that God is one in Being, and three in Persons.

Key Point: LORD in OT is YHWH = Kurios in LXX. Kurios means Lord. In the English versions of the OT YHWH is rendered LORD in what is called ‘small caps.’ This is where the whole word is capitalized but the first letter is a couple of font points larger. The LXX is what the Apostles read. Now think what it implies when we realize that in no NT book do the authors ever bat an eye at calling Jesus ‘Lord.’ Hence every occurrence of Kurios in the NT in reference to Christ is tantamount to calling Him YHWH. Sometimes the references are more blatant than others:

Joel 2:32 / Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13
Isaiah 8:13 / 1 Peter 3:14-15
Jeremiah 23:5-6 / Luke 1:32-33; 1 Cor. 1:30

The same point can also be applied in reference to the Holy Spirit: calling Him “Lord” is tantamount to calling Him “YHWH.” (2 Cor. 3:17-18) Verse 17 as much as says that the expression “Spirit of the Lord” is synonymous with calling the Spirit “Kurios, i.e., YHWH.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thomas Bradwardine: Merit Don't Merit

The following two paragraphs come from Part I, Chapter VII of Samuel Rutherford's "The Covenant of Life Opened," which was published in 1655.

Rutherford is demonstrating the flaw in the Roman Catholic notion of merit. In doing so, he appeals to the late great Thomas Bradwardine (1290-1349), whose De Causa Dei influenced the theology of John Wycliffe on grace and predestination.

Bradwardine's criticism of merit is that it is too late for it to have any value. For man to have the ability to merit anything with God, man must be the first actor. We know this is false, hence merit is an impossibility.

Rutherford writes:

"The proper work of merit (saith great Bradwardine) and of him that works must go before the wages, in time, or in order of nature. And if the worker receive its operation, and working for wages from God first, and by his virtue and help continue in operation and working, he cannot condignly merit at the hand of God, but is rather more in Gods debt, after his working, then before his working, because he bountifully receives more good from God, then before, especially, because he gives nothing proper of his own to God, but gives to God his own good; But no man first acts for God, for God is the first actor and mover in every action, and motion. As that saith, Who gave first to the Lord, and it shall be recompensed him?

"...God did more to Adam in giving to him being, faculties, mind, will, affections, power, habits, his blessed-Image, then Adam can never be in a condition, in which he can recompense God, or give him more annual and usury, in his acting of obedience, then the stock was he received in proportion. As the Son can never give the Father, in recompense, so much or the captive ransomed from death, can never give to his ransom- payer, who bought him, so much, as the one and the other shall no more be under an obligation, and debt of love and service to father and ransomer, then to a stranger that they never knew: Nor could Adam thus be freed of God, so as he should be owing nothing to him. If any say, God may freely forgive all this obligation and debt: To which Bradwardine answers well: 1. The forgiving of the debt, when the debtor hath nothing to pay is a greater debt taken on. 2. God (saith he) may forgive so in regard of actual obligation, that he is not obliged ad aliquid faciendum sub poena peccati, to do anything under the pain or punishment of sin, as the hireling is obliged to work, when he hath made a Covenant to work, and so we are not obliged to do, as much as we can for God. But in regard of habitual obligation, God cannot forgive the debt, that the reasonable creature owes to God, for so he might dispense with this, that the reasonable creature owe no obedience to God, suppose he should command it, which is impossible."

Samuel Rutherford, The Covenant of Life Opened

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Doctrine of Death, Part 3

3. The CONQUEST of Death

2 Samuel 14:14 – We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.
Job 30:23 – For I know that you will bring me to death and to the house appointed for all living.
Proverbs 14:32 – The wicked is overthrown through his evildoing, but the righteous finds refuge in his death.  Adam Clarke writes, “He rejoiceth to depart and be with Christ: to him death is gain; he is not reluctant to go - he flies at the call of God.”

Same Hebrew verb as found in Ruth 2:12 & Psalm 2:12
…the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!
…Blessed are all who take refuge in him.


Question 42. Since then Christ died for us, why must we also die?

Answer. Our death is not a satisfaction for our sins, but only an abolishing of sin, and a passage into eternal life.


This answer is an explanation to the objection which we frequently hear made in the following form: He for whom another has died ought not himself to die, else God would seem to demand a double satisfaction for one offence. Christ now has died for us. Therefore, we ought not to die.

Answer: It is conceded that we ought not to die for the sake of making satisfaction; but there are other causes why it becomes necessary for us to die. We do not die for the purpose of satisfying the justice of God, but that we may truly receive the benefits purchased by the death of another, that sin may be abolished, and a passage or transition be made unto eternal life. Our temporal death is then not a satisfaction for sin; but it is,
1.  An admonition of the remains of sin in us.
2. An admonition of the greatness of the evil of sin.
3. An abolishing of the remains of sin; and, lastly, a passage into eternal life; for the transition of the faithful to eternal life is effected by temporal death.

Reply: Where the cause is removed, the effect can no longer remain in force. But the cause of death in us, which is sin, is taken away. Therefore the effect, which is death, ought also to be taken away.

Answer: The effect is, indeed, taken away when the cause is wholly removed; but in us the cause of death, which has respect to the abolishing of sin, is not entirely removed; although it be taken away as it respects the remission of sin. Or, we may reply, that sin, as far as it respects the guilt thereof, is taken away, but not as it respects the matter of sin which is not yet entirely abolished, but remains in us, to be removed gradually, that we may be required to exercise repentance, and be fervent in prayer, until, in the life to come, we be perfectly freed from all the remains of sin.

John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.

Philippians 1:23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

1 Thessalonians 4:13 – But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

“Asleep” could be viewed simply as a euphemism for death, and in the general, secular culture it was. But Scripture gives us reason to not take it as a simple euphemism for death for the monumental reason that Jesus used it and treated it as mere sleep over which he has full authority. So in Luke 8:52 we read, “And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, ‘Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.’” Then again, in John 11:11, referring to Lazarus, we read, “After saying these things, he said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.’”

Bengel on this passage, "Sleep is the death of the saints, in the language of heaven; but this language the disciples here understood not; incomparable is the generosity of the divine manner of discoursing, but such is the slowness of men's apprehension that Scripture often has to descend to the more miserable style of human discourse."

Christians die in order to share in Christ’s victory over it. Jesus died as a satisfaction for our sins. He rose from the dead proving both the efficacy of His satisfaction for our sins and His triumph over the claims of death on dying sinners. When believers die, they are sharing in Christ’s triumph over death. This is truly part of our life of faith. In faith, we believe that, just as Christ triumphed over the grave, we, being implanted into Him, will also triumph over the grave and live eternally with Him. Unbelievers have no such hope. 

John Bunyan depicts Christian’s death as a ‘crossing the river” into the Celestial City, He does so in these words, which show how believers have both no fear of death, but also have fear of dying:

“Then they addressed themselves to the water, and entering, Christian began to sink, and crying out to his good friend Hopeful, he said, I sink in deep waters; the billows go over my head; all his waves go over me. Selah.

“Then said the other, Be of good cheer, my brother: I feel the bottom, and it is good. Then said Christian, Ah! my friend, the sorrows of death have compassed me about, I shall not see the land that flows with milk and honey. And with that a great darkness and horror fell upon Christian, so that he could not see before him. Also here he in a great measure lost his senses, so that he could neither remember nor orderly talk of any of those sweet refreshments that he had met with in the way of his pilgrimage. But all the words that he spoke still tended to discover that he had horror of mind, and heart-fears that he should die in that river, and never obtain entrance in at the gate. Here also, as they that stood by perceived, he was much in the troublesome thoughts of the sins that he had committed, both since and before he began to be a pilgrim. It was also observed that he was troubled with apparitions of hobgoblins and evil spirits; for ever and anon he would intimate so much by words.

“Hopeful therefore here had much ado to keep his brother’s head above water; yea, sometimes he would be quite gone down, and then, ere a while, he would rise up again half dead. Hopeful did also endeavor to comfort him, saying, Brother, I see the gate, and men standing by to receive us; but Christian would answer, It is you, it is you they wait for; for you have been hopeful ever since I knew you. And so have you, said he to Christian. Ah, brother, (said he,) surely if I was right he would now arise to help me; but for my sins he hath brought me into the snare, and hath left me. Then said Hopeful, My brother, you have quite forgot the text where it is said of the wicked, “There are no bands in their death, but their strength is firm; they are not troubled as other men, neither are they plagued like other men.” Psa. 73:4,5. These troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters, are no sign that God hath forsaken you; but are sent to try you, whether you will call to mind that which heretofore you have received of his goodness, and live upon him in your distresses.

“Then I saw in my dream, that Christian was in a muse a while. To whom also Hopeful added these words, Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole. And with that Christian brake out with a loud voice, Oh, I see him again; and he tells me, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.” Isa. 43:2. Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. Christian, therefore, presently found ground to stand upon, and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow. Thus they got over.”

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Doctrine of Death, Part 2

2. The DECISIVENESS of Death

Job 14:5 – Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass
Ecclesiastes 3:2 – a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
Hebrews 9:27 – And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment

"My uncle Billy lived for 75 years. How can it be just or fair for God to punish him eternally in Hell for the sins of only 75 years?"

This is perhaps one of the most common objections to the doctrine of Hell. The heart of this objection lies in the comparison of eternity to time and the apparent severity of eternal punishment for sin that was confined to what is an infinitesimal speck by comparison.

Though there are several flaws in this objection, we shall attempt to answer them as succinctly as possible.

First of all, we should deal with the mistaken assumption that Hell is full of repentant souls. It is frequently asserted and almost always simply assumed that the souls in Hell now "get it." Only now it is too late for them to be sorry about what they've done. I defy anyone to prove that notion from Scripture. If the Bible gives us any indication of the attitude of the damned souls in Hell, it is that they continue to be sinful and unrepentant. This is in the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Even though the rich man was suffering the fires of hell, he still though he was too good to speak to Lazarus directly. He even wants Abraham to command Lazarus to wait on his needs. I have been in countries where there still exists the strata of classes dividing servants from their bosses and it is common practice for the "help" to be spoken about, even in a derogatory manner, right in his or her presence and if he or she weren't present. I recognize this immediately in the rich man. We do not see him begging for forgiveness from Lazarus for his former contempt and mistreatment of him. No! He still feels that he is better than Lazarus and that it is not unreasonable that even in Hell he should have Lazarus wait on him.

It seems to be quite an unwarranted assumption that once people get to Hell they finally wake up and realize the error of their ways and that their torment consists in being too late to rectify things or to make amends. If we take this story as any kind of indication about the attitudes of the damned, then the objection evaporates instantly. Why is it unfair to eternally punish people who are going to continue eternally to shake their fists at God and refuse to admit their wrong?

But secondly, this objection belittles both God and sin. It belittles sin because it belittles God. A small view of sin is a direct result of a small view of God. God is infinite. God is the ultimate Good. Any action made against His prescribed will is, in its very essence, an affront to the infinite God, maker of heaven and earth. But the real kicker is this: God sees all men in one of two ways - either in Christ or in sin. If your sins are not covered by Christ, then God, since He is eternal and infinite, must necessarily continue infinitely and eternally to see you in sin.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Doctrine of Death, Part 1

In our brief study of the Doctrine of Death, we will treat three aspects of the Biblical teaching:
1. The Nature of Death,
2. The Decisiveness of Death, and finally,
3. The Christian's Conquest of Death.

1. The NATURE of Death

The Bible uniformly describes death, not as a passing out of existence, but as a separation of two things.

Physical death is described as the separation of body and soul:
Genesis 35:18 – And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
1 Kings 17:21 – Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s life (נֶֽפֶשׁ־ - soul) come into him again.”
Matthew 10:28 – And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Spiritual death is a separation of man from God:

Isaiah 59:2 – but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 – They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
Revelation 21:8 – the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

2 Corinthians 5:1-9 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

We will come back to the implicit victory/conquest of death described in this text, but let us notice for the meantime how death is depicted. It is a separation; it is a leaving behind; it is a putting off; a temporary nakedness. Perhaps the unpleasantness of this temporary unclothedness which Paul describes here is the NT counterpart to the several passages of the OT cited by folks showing the sense that OT saints had that death would issue them into a state of diminished closeness with God.

While we will live forever because we have immortal souls, we do not possess eternality in the sense which God does. The 6th century theologian Boethius, describes God’s eternity as an “eternal present.” God’s eternity is not an infinite succession of moments. Our eternal life will be that way. This is the primary essential difference between our “eternal life” and God’s “eternal life.” Hence, it is completely understandable that the OT saints sensed a pang or longing for the closeness to God that would ultimately come when Christ’s mediatorial work was accomplished. Although they died in the grace of God, their existence in the state of death still entailed a lengthy wait for this work to be accomplished. Only then would they be ushered into the full “joy of the Lord,” that NT saints enter into immediately upon death.

This is why, although Christians do not fear death in the abstract, we all fear dying. The severing of body and soul is not pleasant regardless of the amount of physical pain involved in the actual process. Granted, dying “peacefully” in one’s sleep is less daunting than a slow agonizing death due to a deteriorating disease, nevertheless, no one relishes the actual “act” of death.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Brief Survey of James, Part 2

A Brief Survey of James, Part 2

Theological Issues:

The primary, if not only, theological issue raised by the Epistle is James’ contention for “justification by works.”  All Christians, even Arminians, realize the need to harmonize, or synthesize, James’ statements with the apparently contradictory teaching of St. Paul.  Taking for granted the fundamental unity of God’s written word, we must assume different usage of the words “justification” and “faith” by the two authors.

Luther’s objection ("an Epistle of straw, and destitute of an evangelic character") was due to his mistaken idea that it[1] opposes the doctrine of justification by faith, and not by works, taught by Paul.  The two apostles perfectly harmonize because they are looking at justification from distinct standpoints.  Paul considers faith in the justification of the sinner before God, whereas James views it in the justification of the believer manifestly before men.  James confronts the Jewish error that the possession and knowledge of the Law would justify them even though they disobeyed.[2]  James 1:3; 4:1, 14 seem to allude to Romans 5:3; 6:13; 7:23; 14:4.  Plus the tenor of James 2:14-26 on justification seems to allude to Paul’s teaching – correcting false Jewish notions different from those Paul combated.  These errors, however, were not completely unnoticed by Paul.[3]  And, strangely enough, Luther clearly understood James’ point about the nature of faith.  In the preface to his commentary on Romans he asserts that it is “impossible to separate works from faith – yea, just as impossible as to separate burning and shining from fire.”[4]  This was the understanding of faith accepted by all the Reformers.  The seventeenth century Puritan writer Walter Marshall wrote: “Holiness… [as love of God and humankind] is considered, not as a means, but as a part, a distinguished part; or rather as the very central point in which all the means of grace, and all the ordinances of religion, terminate.”[5]

In illustration of James’ meaning concerning faith and works, we might consider the case of Noah.  He built the ark, we are told in Hebrews 11, by faith.  Had Noah’s faith been a purely notional assent to doctrinal propositions, he would have perished with the rest of the antediluvians.  There would exist no evidence of his “faith.”  While God may have seen such a faith, it would have remained unseen by men.  James calls such faith “dead.”  He does not say that the faith is unreal.  There is a world of difference between an imaginary friend and a corpse for a friend.  One does not exist; the other is only a shell of the real thing.  Paul calls such faith, “a form of godliness, denying the power thereof.”[6]

Two textual issues are of particular interest to this writer.  The first is Erasmus’ emendation of 4:2.  In the 1500’s, Erasmus edited the best Greek manuscripts of his day to retranslate the New Testament because of the terrible state of the extant copies of St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate.  So bad were the copies, Erasmus claims they gave birth to several doctrinal errors.  When he reached verse 2, he conjectured φθεiτε instead of φονεύετε.[7]  This changes the rendering from, “you kill and covet,” to, “you envy and covet.”  Erasmus may be correct.  Secondly, in 5:12, many old manuscripts have ἵνα μὴ ὑπὸκρίσιν instead of ὑπὸ
κρίσιν.[8]  The former reads, “So that you do not fall into hypocrisy.”  This would appear to be the correct rendering, considering the rest of the verse: multiplying our words beyond a simple, “Yes,” or, “No,” leads to hypocrisy.


The destruction of Jerusalem seems to be foretold in James 5:1ff.  This was the way the passage was understood by the ante-Nicene Church.  The prophesied destruction ensued shortly after James’ martyrdom.  Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius relates that he was set on a pinnacle of the temple by the scribes and Pharisees, who begged him to restrain the people who were in large numbers embracing Christianity.  "Tell us," they said in the presence of the people gathered at the feast, "which is the door of Jesus?" James replied with a loud voice, "Why ask ye me concerning Jesus the Son of man?  He sitteth at the right hand of power, and will come again on the clouds of heaven."  Many thereupon cried, Hosanna to the Son of David.  But James was cast down headlong by the Pharisees; and praying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."[9]  He was stoned and beaten to death with a fuller's club.  The Jews, as we know from Acts, were incensed at Paul's rescue from their hands, and therefore determined to wreak their vengeance on James.  The publication of his Epistle to the dispersed Israelites made him loathsome to them, especially to the higher classes, because it foretold the woes soon to fall on them and their country.  Their taunting question, "Which is the door of Jesus?" (i.e., by what door will He come when He returns?), alludes to his prophecy, "the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. . . behold the Judge standeth before the door"[10]   Hebrews 13:7 is probably an allusion to the martyrdom of James, who had been so long bishop over the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem, “Remember them that had the rule over you, men that spake unto you the word of God; and considering the issue of their life, imitate their faith."


The style of the Epistle is compact and terse.  The Epistle is pervaded by a Hebraic character, appearing in the occasional poetic parallelism.[11]  The images are analogical arguments, combining logic and poetry at the same time.  The Epistle is eloquent, yet persuasive at the same time.  It is similar in some respects to Matthew, the most Hebrew of the Gospels.  This is what we might expect from the bishop of Jerusalem writing to Israelites.  The doctrines of grace, the distinguishing features of Paul's teaching to the Hellenists and Gentiles, are less prominent as being already taught by that apostle. James complements Paul's teaching, and shows to the Jewish Christians who still kept the legal ordinances down to the fall of Jerusalem, the spiritual principle of the law, namely, love manifested in obedience.  The higher spirit of Christianity is seen putting the Jewish law in its proper place.  The Law is enforced in its everlasting spirit, not in the letter for which the Jews were so zealous.

[1] James 2:14-26
[2] Compare 1:22 with Rom 2:17-25).
[3] Rom 2:17ff.
[4] Luther, Martin – Commentary on Romans, Preface
[5] Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, 1692
[6] 2Tim. 3:5
[7] James Moffatt’s New Testament
[8] Ibidem
[9] Ecclesiastical History, 2.23
[10] James 5:8, 9
[11] James 3:1-12

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Brief Survey of James, Part 1

A Brief Survey of James, Part 1


In the Greek, his name is Ἰάκωβος, Jacob, rather than James.  The name change occurred as the New Testament underwent translations from Greek to Latin and Latin to English.  In fact, all individuals in the New Testament named James are actually Ἰάκωβος in Greek.

The author of this Epistle was without doubt James, the brother of our Lord.  There are three distinguished persons in the New Testament who bear the name James: James, the son of Zebedee, John’s brother – one of the Twelve; James the son of Alphaeus, also of the Twelve, called James the Less[i]; and James, called by Paul in Galatians "the brother of our Lord,”[ii] the man who appears in Acts 15 as wielding a paramount influence in the church at Jerusalem. The epistle could not have been written by James, the brother of John, for he was martyred by Herod[iii] before its date. Therefore the authorship must be ascribed either to James, the son of Alphaeus, or to James, "the Lord's brother."

From the earliest days of the Church the latter has been agreed upon as the author.  All known facts about him point to this conclusion as well.  He was a permanent resident of Jerusalem and preeminent in the church.  He was the chief figure in the Jerusalem Council: it was his judgment that once for all settled the circumcision debate.  St. Paul calls him one of the, “pillars of the church.”[iv]  It is for these reasons that he could authoritatively address the entire community of Jewish Christians scattered around the Roman world.

Some commentators have assumed the author to be James, the son of Alphaeus, a cousin of the Lord, instead of a brother.  This theory usually hinges upon the supposed “perpetual virginity” of Mary.  If she had no other children than Christ, his “brothers” could not be literal siblings.  There are four facts that militate against this theory:
  • It is highly unlikely Clopas’ wife was Mary’s sister – this would entail two sisters with the same name.  John names two pairs: Mary and her sister, and Mary the wife of Clopas.  The sister, no doubt, was Salome, John’s mother.  Hence, John was Mary’s nephew.  Since at the times of the Crucifixion none of Christ’s brothers were believers, it is in this connection that Jesus assigns the care of his mother to John instead of his own brothers.
  • We are explicitly told that Jesus’ brothers were not believers.  Consequently none of them could have been of the number of the apostles.
  • They are never called cousins of Jesus nor is there any proof that the Greek word which designates them as "brethren" is ever used in the sense of cousins in the New Testament.
  • After the Resurrection, when these brothers had become believers, they are distinguished from the Twelve[v].  This fact cannot be explained if at least two out of four of them were of the Twelve.  It is true that in Galatians 1:19 James is spoken of as an apostle, yet neither he nor Paul – the greatest apostle, was of the Twelve.

These facts seem to me to clearly indicate that James, Christ’s brother, the author of the Epistle, was not one of the Twelve and was a brother to our Lord in the sense that he was a child of Mary.

James’ prominence in the early church can be seen in the following references: Acts 12:7; 15:19; 21:18; Galatians 1:19; 2:9; 2:12.  The New Testament is silent concerning his later history but Josephus, the Jewish historian says “[Ananias] assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”[vi]


The date of the Epistle is difficult to ascertain.  Based on internal evidence most commentators place it in the period between Paul’s two imprisonments in Rome – i.e., about A.D. 62.  Since James resided in Jerusalem, this would be the place of writing.  Nevertheless, there are a few commentators who place the Epistle as early as 39 A.D.  The main internal support for this view comes from the fact that James calls the saints’ assembly a sunagwgh instead of an ekklhsia.  The reasoning employed is that the saints had not yet been completely expelled from the synagogues yet and forced thereby to form their own congregations henceforth called churches.


In the early Patristic age there was some questions as to its canonicity, but these passed away rather soon.  Clement of Rome quotes it.[vii]  Hermas quotes 4:7.[viii]  Irenaeus is thought to refer to 2:23.[ix]  According to Cassiodorus, Clement of Alexandria commented on it.[x]  Ephraim the Syrian quotes 5:1.[xi]  A strong proof of its authenticity is that it formed part of the old Syriac version, which contains no other of the disputed books, except Hebrews.[xii]

James’ inspiration as an apostle is expressly referred to in Acts 15:19, 28: "My sentence is…It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us."  His ecclesiastical authority is implied by the deference paid to him by Peter and Paul.[xiii]  The Lord had appeared specially to him after the resurrection.[xiv]  Peter in his First Epistle (universally from the first received as canonical) implicitly confirms the inspiration of James's Epistle by incorporating with his own inspired writings no less than ten passages from James.  The "apostle of the circumcision," Peter, and the first bishop of Jerusalem, would naturally have much in common.[xv]  The fact that it was written in the purest Greek would seem to show that it was intended not only for the Jews at Jerusalem, but also for the Hellenistic Jews.


The recipients of this letter were the Jewish Christians who were part of the Diaspora, i.e., the Dispersion of the Jews throughout the world.  This would seem to explain why, when in Chapter 2, in his discourse against favoritism, he calls their assembly a συναγωγὴ - a synagogue, instead of ἐκκλησία.


James’ object was to enforce the practical duties of the Christian life.  This largely accounts for the Epistle’s conspicuous lack of doctrinal statements.  The Epistles of Paul are usually an even balance: one half theology, one half application.  For instance, the first three chapters of Ephesians are purely theological pronouncements.  Chapters 4-6 however are the application of the foregoing doctrines.  Galatians is divided the same way as well.  This letter however contains 100% application, insinuating that the theology James is applying was familiar enough to his audience that he could forego repeating it.  He warns against several Jewish vices:
·         Formalism, which made the service of God consist in washings and outward ceremonies.  He therefore reminds them (1:27) that it consists rather in active love and purity.
·         Fanaticism, which, under the cloak of religious zeal, was tearing Jerusalem in pieces (1:20).
·         Fatalism, which threw its sins on God (1:13).
·         Callousness, which crouched before the rich (2:2).
·         Falsehood, which had made words and oaths play-things (3:2-12);
·         Partisanship (3:14);
·         Evil speaking (4:11);
·         Boasting (4:16);
·         Oppression (5:4).

The grand lesson he teaches them as Christians is patience:
  • patience in trial (1:2),
  • patience in good works (1:22-25),
  • patience under provocation (3:17),
  • patience under oppression (5:7),
  • patience under persecution (5:10);
  • the ground of their patience is that the coming of the Lord draws near, which will right all wrong (5:8).

[i] Mark 15:40
[ii] Galatians 1:19
[iii] Acts 12:2
[iv] Galatians 2:9
[v] Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5
[vi] Antiquities 20.9.1
[vii] Clement of Rome, 1 Corinth XI
[viii] Hermas, The Shepherd
[ix] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.16.2
[x] Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s Commentary: Introduction to James
[xi] Ephraim the Syrian, Against the Greeks
[xii] Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s Commentary: Introduction to James
[xiii] Acts 12:17; 21:18; Galatians 1:19; 2:9
[xiv] 1Cor. 15:7
[xv] Compare James 1:1 with 1 Peter 1:1; James 1:2 with 1 Peter 1:6; 4:12, 13; James 1:11 with 1 Peter 1:24; James 1:18 with 1 Peter 1:3; James 2:7 with 1 Peter 4:14; James 3:13 with 1 Peter 2:12; James 4:1 with 1 Peter 2:11; James 4:6 with 1 Peter 5:5, 6; James 4:7 with 1 Peter 5:6, 9; James 4:10 with 1 Peter 5:6; James 5:20 with 1 Peter 4:6

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Superiority of Expository Preaching

The Superiority of Expository Preaching

The unfolding of Your word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. Psalm 119:130 (NASB)

“The end of all preaching is to bring men under the influence of God’s Word; and nothing seems so likely to make men understand the Word as lectures in which the Word is explained.  It was so in Chrysostom’s days; it ought to be so again.  The idea, no doubt, like every good theory, may be easily ridden to death; and I believe that with ignorant, semi-heathen congregations, a short pithy text often does more good than a long passage expounded. But I have no doubt of the immense value of expository preaching, when people will bring their Bibles to the service, and accompany the preacher as he travels on, or go home to their Bibles after the service, and compare what they have heard with the written Word.” Excerpt from J.C. Ryle’s “Estimate of Manton” in volume 1 of the works of Thomas Manton

Expository preaching is superior to all other homiletic methods.  We take as our theme this passage from Psalm 119:130 because expository preaching is nothing other that “unfolding” God’s Word, and we are told here that it is this which gives light and understanding.

The Hebrew word rendered “unfolding” in the NASB is the word pethach, which means “opening” in a figurative sense.  This is why other versions render the word as “entrance.”  This is an acceptable rendering so long as we keep in mind that it is meant in a figurative sense that implies disclosure rather than a door.  Other forms of the word’s root, pathach, mean to open wide (literal or figurative); specifically to loosen, begin, plough, carve: - appear, break forth, draw (out), let go free, (en-) grave (-n), loose (self), (be, be set) open (-ing), put off, ungird, unstop, have vent.  And so we can clearly see the point being made by the Psalmist.  It is only by opening, unfolding and drawing out the meaning of God’s Word that there can be light and understanding.

There are other passages of Scripture that confirm this view.  In Luke 24:27, 31, it was Jesus’ expounding of the Scriptures that opened the eyes of the disciples’ understanding.  Acts 17:3 has Paul opening the Scriptures and it was this opening which brought many of his listeners to saving faith.  Nehemiah 8:8 says, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.”

Expository preaching takes the actual words of Scripture and sets about to explain them from their context and how all of Scripture teaches the same things. The Reformers and Puritans were truly models for great preaching. If you have ever read a Puritan sermon, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, you should!

The Puritan model is best seen in the sermons of Thomas Manton and John Flavel. First the text is read. Next, some details of the context and background are given. The text then is broken up into its various clauses and phrases, with all the ramifications explained. This leads to the statement of the passage’s “Doctrine,” i.e., the theological truth which the passage teaches. The body of the sermon is spent expounding this doctrine through references to many other parts of Scripture. The Puritans, like the Reformers before them, believed in the principle that Scripture interprets itself (Scriptura Intrapratatum). This is why they always interpreted a given passage in the Bible in the light of the rest of the Bible. They never came upon a verse and thought, “Wow! This is a new doctrine taught nowhere else in the Bible." If you think that a passage is teaching a doctrine taught nowhere else in the Bible, you've misinterpreted it.

Finally, the Puritan sermon always ended with pastoral, or practical applications of the doctrinal truths learned. Puritan sermons were almost always split right down the middle: about half doctrinal and half pastoral application.

This is truly the biblical model. Paul’s epistles have this same quality. About midway through you will find a “therefore” that begins a section of applying the doctrinal truths expounded on in the first part of the letter. There is no superior method of preaching.

Appended are three principles that are a great guide in biblical interpretation. I found these in my notes. I didn’t formulate them. If anyone recognizes them and knows the source, let me know. I want to give credit where credit is due.

3 Principles of Interpretation 

  • We must aim to allow the Scriptures, in whole and in each of their parts, to function as God intends.
  • The function or meaning of any individual passage of Scripture should first be sought by attempting to determine what its human author intended in writing it. 

  • Ultimately, our interpretation of any particular biblical passage must acknowledge and take into account the fundamental unity and consistency of God’s whole written word. 

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