Just in time for Easter, check out this creative lyric video from The Gray Havens:
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Have you noticed the double brackets in the ESV that surround John 7:53–8:11? Those double brackets mean that the ESV’s translation committee does not consider this passage to be original to John’s Gospel. You also find double brackets around Mark 16:9–20.
Do you know what it means that these passages are marked off–correctly–as not coming from the authors of these respective Gospels? If John did not write what is enumerated as 7:53–8:11, that means it doesn’t belong between John 7:52 and 8:12 because it does not come from the author who was “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” If John did not write this passage, it isn’t Scripture because it was not “breathed out by God.” If it isn’t Scripture, it shouldn’t be in the text, and pastors shouldn’t preach it.
That’s what those double brackets mean about these passages. I submit that if a translation committee has come to the conclusion that they should put double brackets around these texts, they would serve pastors and Bible teachers better by putting these texts in a footnote rather than in the text. Those double brackets are too easy not to notice. The ESV puts John 5:4 in a footnote because the editors do not think John wrote that verse. The same should be done with Mark 16:9–20 and John 7:53–8:11.
What is the evidence for such a conclusion? In what follows I will only present the evidence for John 7:53–8:11, evidence that comes from the New Testament manuscripts (external evidence) and from the flow of thought in John’s Gospel (internal evidence). [If you're interested in the Mark 16 issue, I discussed that passage also from the pulpit].
We are dealing with books written long before the printing press and long copied by hand. John 7:53–8:11 is not in any of the earliest manuscripts, and Bruce Metzger notes that “No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospel do not contain it.” That means that at some point a scribe copied this passage into a manuscript of John’s Gospel, and then that got perpetuated. The fact that we have enough evidence to determine this to be the case should increase our confidence in the text of the New Testament. That there is a consensus on this point should make us more confident in the Scriptures not less.
John 7:53–8:11 is not in any of the best texts: P66, P75, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, etc. As the note above the passage in the ESV states, the earliest manuscripts do not include it. As the footnote in the ESV text states, some manuscripts contain this passage, but not following John 7:52. Some have it after John 7:36 or 21:25 or even Luke 21:38. Again, the fact that we have enough manuscript evidence to arrive at this conclusion shows that we can be practically certain about the original contents of the text of the New Testament.
The Flow of Thought in John’s Gospel
In addition to the manuscript evidence indicating that John the author of the Gospel did not put this passage here, we can also observe that the passage interrupts the flow of thought in this section of the Gospel. The opponents of Jesus are ready to kill him (John 5:18; 7:19–20, 25). They seek to arrest him (7:30, 32), and they are frustrated when the officers don’t bring him in (7:45–47). Their minds are made up. They have just rejected Nicodemus’s counsel that they investigate Jesus (7:51). They are past the point of testing Jesus or seeking charges to bring against him, as the interpolated passage has them doing in 8:6. They do not need charges against Jesus. He has called “God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18), so they can bring him up on charges of blasphemy.
There are accounts in other Gospels similar to this one about the woman caught in adultery, but there are no accounts like this one in John. The passages most similar to this interpolated passage are the ones that depict the scribes and Pharisees disputing directly with Jesus over someone who is in need. Interestingly, the two accounts closest to this one involve the healing of the paralytic and the man with the withered hand. Mark places both of those incidents (Mark 2:1–12; 3:1–5) prior to the Pharisees’ fateful decision to seek to kill Jesus (Mark 3:6).
John Doesn’t Talk This Way
Have you noticed that John always refers to the opponents of Jesus as “the Jews”? Did you notice that John never refers to the scribes? The only instance of the word “scribes” in John’s Gospel is in the interpolated passage at 8:3. In fact there are 14 words in John 7:53–8:11 passage that occur nowhere else in John’s Gospel.
Continuity Between John 7 and 8
If we pass over 7:53–8:11, we find that the setting and situation in the rest of John 8 matches the setting and situation of John 7. As we move to John 8:12, John continues to present Jesus speaking at the temple (7:28; 8:20) on the last and greatest day of the feast (7:37).
Not only is the setting of John 8 the same as that of John 7, the points under discussion are the same. Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of the water pouring ceremony of the Feast of Tabernacles in 7:37–39. That water pouring ceremony likely commemorated the water from the rock in the wilderness (Exod 17:1–7; Num 20:2–13). In addition to the water pouring ceremony there was a ceremonial lighting of candles, likely commemorating the way the Lord lit Israel’s way through the wilderness by the pillar of cloud and flame. In John 8:12, Jesus will assert that he is the light of the world. Other points of contact between John 7 and 8 include the following:
- Testimony, 7:18, 28; 8:13
- Where Jesus comes from and where he goes, 7:25–30, 31–36; 8:14, 21–22 (cf. esp. 7:34–35 and 8:21–22)
- Righteous judgment, 7:24; 8:15
- The Jews don’t know God, 7:28; 8:19, 55
- The seeking of glory, 7:18; 8:50, 54
A Plea to Translation Committees
Bible translation committees responsible for the ESV, CSB, NIV, NAS, and any other translation preached from pulpits should do pastors a favor and put these texts in footnotes. Mark 16:9–20 was not written by Mark, and John 7:53–8:11 was not written by John. Those passages do not belong in the text and should not be preached from pulpits. The snake-handlers are woefully mistaken. They should not think there is any warrant in the New Testament for such a practice. Similarly, those who cry that no one should throw stones anytime sinners are called to repentance have misunderstood this interpolated passage (Jesus does tell the woman to stop sinning in 8:11), but still the passage has no business in the text. It was not written by John, and it should not be there interrupting the flow of though between 7:52 and 8:12. Put it in a footnote.
[it was my privilege to preach John 7:53–8:29 at Kenwood Baptist Church today, and for any who may be interested in the way I addressed this issue from the pulpit, the sermon audio is online].
Can you imagine anything more vulnerable than a woman laboring to give birth? Women in labor are completely occupied with giving birth. They are not thinking about defending themselves. They cannot strategize about how to escape from danger. They are focused on one thing: giving birth. The process of giving birth is a colossal struggle for life. The whole of a woman’s mental energy, emotional strength, and bodily power are focused on what seems impossible and is nothing short of miraculous. A human being is about to come into the world out of her body, and the baby seems bigger than the birth canal. It looks impossible. It is a miracle of frantic human determination and astonishing divine design.
Can you imagine anything more frightening or threatening than a huge dragon? Let me suggest a way to make a dragon even more dreadful: give it seven heads. Put a horn on each head, and on three of the heads have two horns, so there are seven heads and ten horns.
Put the two images together and you have a drama. A pregnant woman in the process of giving birth, and she is threatened by a massive dragon who wants to eat her baby the moment he is born. She cannot run. She cannot hide. What hope does she have?
Do you want to heighten the desperation and urgency of the situation? The child about to be born, sure to be eaten by the dragon, is the world’s last hope. This is an epic pageant of intense, unprotected goodness confronted with a shocking evil that looks powerful, inevitable, devastating.
John writes in Revelation 12:1–2, “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.” The first thing we should note is that this woman is a “sign.” She is a portent of symbolic significance. So the symbol is a pregnant woman about to give birth, and she is clothed with the sun.
Imagine a woman wearing the sun as a garment. She has the moon under her feet, and she has a crown on her head. The crown is of twelve stars. These heavenly bodies are reminiscent of Joseph’s second dream in Genesis 37:9, where Joseph says, “Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” Joseph’s father Jacob, a.k.a. Israel, interprets the dream in 37:10 saying, “Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” So in Joseph’s dream, Jacob/Israel is the sun, Joseph’s mother Rachel is the moon, and Joseph’s eleven brothers are the eleven stars, with Joseph evidently the twelfth.
When God created the heavens and the earth he made the two great lights on the fourth day, the greater light to rule the day, the lesser light to rule the night with the stars (Gen 1:16), and they were “for signs and for seasons, and for days and years” (1:14). Portraying the family of Israel as these “ruling signs” seems to communicate that Israel will rule the world, and the patriarchal luminaries of Israel bow to Joseph. Revelation 12:1 seems to evoke Genesis 37:9–10 to portray Jesus as a new and greater Joseph.
As for the woman being pregnant, Micah 4:10 presents the “daughter of Zion” being in labor and it seems that Israel will remain in exile until the child is born in Bethlehem (5:2). Micah 5:3–4 says, “Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who was in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.” Psalm 72:8 and Zechariah 9:10 also speak of the Messiah reigning “to the ends of the earth.” So this woman seems to symbolize the nation of Israel in general and in particular Mary, the maiden of Israel, daughter of Zion, who gave birth to Jesus. The birth of Jesus is interpreted here as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies that point to the birth of the child bringing redemption for God’s people and ruling over all the nations of the earth. This child is the hope of the world.
There is a second sign in Revelation 12:3–4, “And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.” Imagine seeing this huge red dragon, but it isn’t your ordinary dragon with one head, it has seven heads! With the seven heads, it has ten horns.
The portrayal of the dragon’s tail sweeping down a third of the stars of heaven and casting them to the earth depicts a dragon massive in proportion to have a tail so large. Perhaps the dragon sweeping these stars out of heaven and casting them to earth refers to Satan convincing one third of the heavenly host to join him in rebellion against God.
The dragon being ready to devour the child about to be born to the woman reminds us that God cursed the serpent in Genesis 3:15, putting enmity between the serpent and the woman, between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, and promising that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. These symbols depict the cosmic, epic battle between God and Satan. Satan looks like he has all the advantages—he’s a dragon with seven heads and ten horns against a pregnant woman! Who would you bet on in that conflict?
In Revelation 12:5 we see the identity of the child about to be born to the woman: “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.” This clear allusion to Psalm 2:7 identifies the child as the Lord’s Anointed, his Messiah, Jesus. Out of the mouths of babes God has established strength.
Satan goes to war as a dragon, and God overcomes him by a pregnant woman giving birth to a baby boy.
Does it sometimes seem to you that Satan has the upper hand in the struggle of the ages? Does it look like he is the one who knows how to fight to win, and God always seems to pick the losing strategy? Turn the other cheek. Bless those who persecute you. Love your enemies. Preach Christ and him crucified and not with what the world thinks is eloquent wisdom. Choose the weak things of the world.
It’s almost as though God shows up on the playground to pick his team, and instead of picking the guys who look like they can play, he picks the obviously inferior team. And how does it always turn out? God triumphs every time.
Do you ever look around your life and feel like God has dealt you a losing hand? If you’re a student of the Bible, when you see what looks like a losing hand, you know that God is about to triumph in a way that will give him all the credit for the victory. Isn’t that the kind of victory you want? So when everything in your life looks unimpressive, sure to lose, insignificant, let me encourage you to trust Christ and watch for the glory of God to be demonstrated.
This is precisely what happens when the child is caught up to God and to his throne in Revelation 12:5. In verse 4 the dragon is poised to devour the child. God looks like he has the short end of the stick. Satan is a dragon, and God has left this poor pregnant woman and her newborn baby to face the dragon alone. Suddenly victory is snatched from the dragon’s jaws as the child is caught up to God and his throne.
This being caught up to heaven seems to collapse the whole life of Jesus, from ministry to cross and resurrection, so that we go straight from the birth to the ascension. When Jesus died on the cross, it looked like Satan had conquered. God turned certain and total defeat—his own people rejecting and crucifying the Messiah—into the victory that saves the world. When it looked like the last defense against evil had fallen, Christ rose from the dead, decisively breaking the back of evil.
That dragon was thwarted at the baby’s birth.
This post is an excerpt from Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches
The 2013 Issachar Award: For the Book that Best Understands the Times and Teaches What God’s People Should Do
Tis the season when the books of the year are being announced, and in that spirit here at For His Renown I’m inaugurating The Issachar Award, so named for the reference in 1 Chronicles 12:32 to the “the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (NAS).
The Issachar Award goes to the book that best understands the most crucial issues facing the church and most faithfully communicates the truth of the Scriptures on these issues for the good of God’s people and the glory of God.
The recipient of The Issachar Award for 2013 is Denny Burk, for his book What Is the Meaning of Sex?
Here are the top ten reasons What Is the Meaning of Sex? wins the Issachar Award for 2013.
10. The meaning of sex–that word referring to both the distinguishing of the human species as males or females and the act whereby man and wife are physically united as one–is under attack today, and the attack on the nature of sex as God created it comprises the most controversial issue the church now faces.
9. The question of the meaning of sex–again, what it means to be male and female and what that means for marriage–has become the canary in the coal-mine for the question of Religious Liberty. The freedom to worship and to live in accordance with the dictates of conscience is under threat because of the efforts to revise the meaning of sex.
8. These realities make the meaning of sex one of the biggest evangelistic hurdles Christians face as we seek to communicate the gospel to unbelievers.
7. The reality that every human is either male or female makes the meaning of sex foundational to our identity as human beings.
6. Our culture desperately needs men who are manly in Christ-like ways, with ladylike women who are the crowning glory of God’s creation, as the Scriptures teach.
5. Like Hitler seeking to demoralize the British in the Blitz, Satan’s concentrated attacks on the meaning of sex make this the most intense point of the raging onslaught, the line where the battle flames hottest, the place we must stand in the ongoing spiritual warfare. Satan pursues his attacks on the meaning of sex through sexual temptation, growing persecution, and false allegations of bigotry, all of which urge Christians to shut up, to refrain from confessing the truths of Scripture on these issues.
4. Traditional marriage is hands down the best program for advancing social justice, for helping others, for loving our neighbors, for ensuring the academic success of children, for protecting kids against drugs and predators and gangs and whatever else. The meaning of sex is therefore basic to the best social program that could be advanced for children in underprivileged areas. Traditional marriage is also the best protection for unborn children and at-risk mothers in this lusty, bloodthirsty land.
3. More important than anything said to this point is the glorious truth that marriage as God created it to be is a mini-drama of the relationship between Christ and the church. Marriage is about the gospel. The meaning of sex impinges directly on the meaning of the gospel.
2. This book teaches that sex is for the glory of God.
1. This book will tell you what the Bible says about these most disputed questions, questions whose answers will determine the kind of world in which our children will live: whether they will retain the free exercise of religion, what kind of moral norms and expectations will permeate the atmosphere, and the accessibility of the gospel in this society.
The future of western civilization depends on what kind of answer we give to the question What Is the Meaning of Sex? For the gospel, for the children, for the culture, for the glory of God, we need to know how the Bible answers that question. For all these reasons, this year’s Issachar Award goes to Denny Burk for his book What Is the Meaning of Sex? published by Crossway Books.
Congratulations to Crossway Books and Denny Burk on winning The Issachar Award for 2013.
I shall henceforth refer to What Is the Meaning of Sex? as an “award winning book,” and when speaking of Denny Burk I will freely use the phrase “award winning author.” I would encourage you to do the same, and if you don’t yet have a copy of the book, the linked title above will take you to Amazon where you can remedy that deficiency.
Saul Sarabia Lopez has come through again! Here is his translation of my essay, “Were Old Covenant Believers Indwelt by the Holy Spirit?”
Here are the other essays he has translated (links go to posts where the Spanish translations can be found):
Spencer Haygood shared this Dr. Seuss style poem with me for the Christmas season. I loved it, and he gave me permission to post it here. Enjoy!
We Watch Every Year!
B. Spencer Haygood, Jr
We all know the story, we’ve all heard it told,
of the Who’s down in Whoville, and the Grinch, bold and cold;
how the grouchy old Grump greatly hated their joys
and grinningly plotted to steal all their toys.
Oh, we watch every year, at least most everyone.
We watch, and we watch, as the dark deed is done;
as the Grinch takes the toys of the Who girls and boys
and away, on his sleigh, takes them all, without noise.
And up on a ledge, at the top of Mount Crumpit,
the meany old Grinch sits ready to dump it
all off the edge of the ledge to the pit
he means to dump it all, yes, all of it.
“For what could he do worse than this,” he surmised
“than take away all of these things that they’ve prized?”
But just as he’s ready to shove it headlong,
from the town comes a sound … “Oh no, it’s a song!”
A song, being sung, while the Who’s all hold hands
A song that now echoes throughout all Who-land
And a great celebration of life and its ways
of family and friend and fun holidays
And the grouchy and grumpy old Grinch-heart was stirred.
That heart two sizes too small had heard
something that made him see Christmas was more
than all of these “things” that were bought at a store.
And so he returned all the toys to the Who’s
And all they thought lost they didn’t really lose
So they all joined together at the grand Christmas feast
and the Grinch, you remember, carved the roast beast.
It’s all a good story, with a good moral, yes!
Life doesn’t consist in the things we possess.
But is that all Christmas is, an Enlightenment tale,
of peace and good will, beyond things for sale?
Is Christmas just time for family and friends,
a year-ending festival of food without end,
with check accounts empty, and credit cards full,
a few sincere wishes, and a whole lot of bull,
when presents are given—some are hers, some are his—
is that really all we believe Christmas is?
Oh, I know a story, a story that’s old
and of this story’s glory not the half has been told
of Paradise first, and then Paradise lost,
of the deepest rebellion, and the terrible cost,
of the entrance into “Ourville,” not of an old Grinch,
but of that ancient Serpent, and sin and its stench,
and how he stole, not some toys, but life from our race
leaving us with no hope, not even a trace.
But then the first promise of One who would come
and undo the undoing the Undoer had done.
From that moment on, as the story proceeds
everything points to this coming seed.
From Seth to Noah to Shem it flows
then to Terah and Abraham, it goes and it goes
on to Isaac and Jacob and then David the King
the line can’t be stopped, not by anything.
Finally to Christ everything leads
prophecies, promises, patterns, and seeds
the portrait grows clearer and clearer, till the day
He appears in “Ourville” who will take sin away.
How perfectly, perfectly the round is maintained
Paradise lost, now Paradise regained
The way to the tree of life that was barred
now opened in him once more, evermore.
It’s true, in the Garden the first Adam fell
and if that were the end … what a story to tell
but the last Adam came and took all our loss
stood all the test, endured the cross
paid what we owed, went to the grave
then rose the third day, mighty to save.
It’s the story of sacrifice, of changing of place
of love everlasting and infinite grace
of sweet mercy offered to us, due the worst,
now freely accepted, freed from the curse.
Oh, we watch every year, least most everyone
we watch, and we watch, as the great Deed was done
from the grandeur of heaven to the grime of the stall
comes the Lord of all glory, and the great King of all
who’s born there in Bethlehem that dark, starry night
for the purpose of making what’s wrong once more right.
We all know the story, we’ve all heard it told
this story of glory, and this good news of old
Oh, for the wonder and witness once more
of our voices, with angels, raised evermore,
singing, shouting, filling earth with the praise
of the glorious Gospel of God’s mighty grace.
Just yesterday I was asked: does the Bible teach that women are to do anything more than schlepp kids and keep house?
Proverbs 31 has lots to say about what wise women do, but this video turns the question on its head, capturing the profound majesty of mothering:
Someone said: Only a Philistine could fail to love the Psalms.
David “Gunner” Gunderson doesn’t just make last second shots, he thinks and writes well, and I’d encourage you to check out his important review of an important book, Gordon Wenham’s Psalms as Torah. Here’s a snippet:
The Burden of the Book: The Shaping Power of Praying the Psalms
Christians often talk about “the power of prayer,” and rightfully so. But what’s usually meant is the power of prayer to change things by summoning the sovereign power of God. This book is all about the power of prayer, but Wenham is taking a different angle. He wants us to see that prayer not only reshapes the landscape of our lives by moving mountains but reshapes the landscape of our hearts by recrafting and renewing our attitudes and commitments.
[P]rayer has an impact on ethical thought . . . If we praise a certain type of behavior in our prayers, we are telling God that this is how we intend to behave. On the other hand, if in prayer we denounce certain acts and pray for God to punish them, we are in effect inviting God to judge us if we do the same. This makes the ethics of liturgy uniquely powerful. It makes a stronger claim on the believer than either law, wisdom, or story, which are simply subject to passive reception: one can listen to a proverb or a story and then take it or leave it, but if you pray ethically, you commit yourself to a path of action (57).
Therefore, it’s not enough for the church to retell the narratives, preach the gospels, and exposit the epistles. We must also pray the Psalms, individually and corporately. [the whole thing]
We love the Psalms. Often in family devos around here we will be reading a Psalm nightly until the whole family can recite it. Right now we’re reading Psalm 29.
I’m hoping and praying for the creatives among us to come up with more and more tunes for singing the Psalms in ways that resonate today. May the Lord bless us with his word.
Saul Sarabia L. has blessed me with Spanish translations of my essays “The Center of Biblical Theology in Acts” and “Biblical Theology and Preaching,” and now he has also translated “The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham.”
If you know Spanish language students of the Bible, please do pass this on to them: “La Simiente de la Mujer y la Bendición de Abraham,” translated by Saul Sarabia Lopez.
May the Lord use us to carry out the great task of making disciples of all nations.
I’m honored to commend the new book by R. Reed Lessing and Andrew E. Steinmann, Prepare the Way of the Lord: An Introduction to the Old Testament, Concordia, 2014.
Here’s my endorsement:
To read the Bible is to risk a thrilling adventure through wild jungles with thunderous cataracts and soaring timbers teeming with life. Some turn its pages like those who would make rain forests into concrete wastelands for billboards and bobos. Others, and we thank God for the likes of Drs. Steinmann and Lessing, come to the forest with a gleaming eye and forward lean, eager to plunge in, to explore the glories and relish the sights and smells and sounds, for there is always more to see. This book will take you on a life-changing expedition through the Book of books. Your guides are as faithful as they are courageous, and you will not regret your time on this excursion with these authors. Enjoy!
We transgressed, defiled and raged,
And he gave his son.
For our filth and shame, staining sin,
He sent the pure one.
Bloodied hands and bloodsoaked lands,
The Lamb—he held his tongue,
His blood was spilt; the church was built,
Because he gave his son.
Now free from chains and all your pains
To living waters run
For cleansing life where Jesus reigns,
The risen, ruling Son.
Worthy he of all our praise,
Honored as his name we raise,
Constant through all time he stays,
Jesus all who trust him saves!
From the sermon “This Is How God Loved the World” on John 3:16–21, preached at Kenwood Baptist Church on October 13, 2013.
Muhammed Ali said, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” He also said, “Humble people, I’ve found, don’t get very far.”
We see the opposite of that pride in John 3 from John the Baptist, and the reason John’s perspective is so different from Ali’s comes down to two things: he knows the identity of Jesus, and he knows the part Jesus plays in God’s plan.
From those realities I make these two assertions about true humility:
1) True humility results from encountering Jesus, who is true greatness.
2) True humility arises from knowing the part Jesus plays in God’s big plan.
Two applications: knowing the greatness of Jesus and the part he plays keeps us from thinking that we’re the world’s Savior, and it helps us to know what our own role is and isn’t.
From what the Baptist says in John 3:27–33, we see 15 things that he knew that kept him humble:
1. What can’t be done:
“A person cannot receive even one thing . . .” (John 3:27a)
2. Where gifts come from:
“unless it is given him from heaven” (3:27b).
3. Who he is:
“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ’” (3:28a)
4. What his role is:
“but I have been sent before him” (3:28b)
5. Who Jesus is:
“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom” (3:29a)
6. What his relationship to Jesus is:
“The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him” (3:29b)
7. How to respond to Jesus:
“rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” (3:29c)
8. What must happen:
“He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30)
9. Where Jesus is from:
“He who comes from above” (3:31a)
10. What place Jesus occupies:
“is above all. . . . He who comes from heaven is above all” (3:31b, e)
11. Where he, the Baptist, is from:
“He who is of the earth belongs to the earth” (3:31c)
12. How he speaks:
“and speaks in an earthly way” (3:31d)
13. How Jesus speaks:
“He bears witness to what he has seen and heard” (3:32a)
14. How Jesus is rejected:
“yet no one receives his testimony” (3:32b)
15. What it means to receive the testimony of Jesus:
“Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true” (3:33)
Pride comes from thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. By recognizing that he is not the Messiah, the Baptist has accepted the fact that he is not Israel’s king, not Israel’s champion, not Israel’s Savior. John knows who he is and who he is not. John also knows what his purpose is. His purpose is to prepare the way for Jesus. John knows his own origin. He is from earth, not heaven. John knows that he has nothing he has not received (1 Cor 4:7), and that whatever he has received has come as a gift from God (John 3:27).
One reason we are not humble is the fact that we have not experienced greatness. We have not encountered majesty, so in our ignorance and lack of experience we begin to think that we are grander and greater than we really are. We begin to overestimate our own importance. This doesn’t happen to John because he has experienced greatness, majesty, authority, incomparability in the person of Jesus. John knows that Jesus is the bridegroom (John 3:29) who comes from above, that is, heaven (3:31).
One manifestation of our pride is the assumption that we will succeed where others have failed. What keeps John from that pride? He knows that there has never been a better witness than Jesus, and “yet no one receives his testimony” (John 3:32). No one has a better perception of reality than Jesus. No one has more right to be heard than Jesus. No one could communicate more clearly than Jesus. And his testimony was not received.
What do you expect will happen to your testimony? What right do we have to think that we will have more success than Jesus had?
We cannot receive what has not been given. We are not Messiah. We are not from heaven but from earth. We are not the world’s Savior. We were created to reflect the glory of the image of the invisible God. We were made for Jesus, not the other way around. Therefore we should feel what John articulates about himself and Jesus in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
From “He Must Increase, But I Must Decrease,” preached at Kenwood Baptist Church on October 27, 2013.
I’m sure you’ve heard what J. K. Rowling said about Albus Dumbledore: “I always thought of Dumbledore as gay.”
Dumbledore is a hero, one of the good guys through all seven novels. Unlike the way he is portrayed in the movies, Dumbledore is neither bumbling nor weak. He is commanding, authoritative, strong, sure, and only defeated by superior forces, never inferior ones. Dumbledore didn’t die because he made mistakes or because he absentmindedly mismanaged some magic. He died because he laid down his life, playing his appointed part in the outworking of a grand providential plan into which he had remarkable insight.
How do we deal with the information that Rowling has given us? How do we respond to her declaration that she thought of him as gay?
This calls for wisdom.
We should ask, I think, at least two questions: (1) what does Rowling show us of Dumbledore’s conduct as it relates to homosexuality/same-sex desire, and (2) what is it that makes Dumbledore a hero? Let’s start with the second first.
Is Dumbledore a hero because he has decided that the desires he feels must be right? Has he concluded that his appetites are to be gratified? Has he chosen what he wants over what he deems right? Has he chosen what is easy or what is true and good? Has he done whatever he wanted to do without concern for how it affects other people? Does he advocate that his impulses, his freedom, and his right to do whatever he wants to do matter more than any consideration of traditional morality or societal standard? Does he demand the right to throw off moral norms and be considered righteous by everyone?
The answers to these questions are obvious to anyone who has read the fabulous Harry Potter stories. Dumbledore is a hero not because he has thrown off Christian morality and Christian conceptions of what is good and true and beautiful but because he has embraced them. Dumbledore is a hero because he selflessly opposes evil—moral evil—and the definition of moral evil in the Potter stories corresponds to the definition of moral evil in the Bible. Dumbledore is heroic because he is Christ-like.
There is a character in the Harry Potter stories who has moved beyond traditional morality, who has decided that his appetites are to be gratified, that what he deems right is what must be true, that what he wants he will have without respect for the way it harms others. This character says that there is no good and evil, only power. There is a character who chooses that path, but his name is Voldemort not Dumbledore.
I would suggest, then, that Dumbledore’s same-sex attraction does not take away from our conception of him as a hero but adds to it because it shows us one more way in which Dumbledore has crucified evil, selfish, fleshly desires for the sake of what is morally true, ethically right, lovingly beautiful, and in every way good.
Skeptical of my interpretation of Rowling’s intentions? Need proof? Let’s move from the second question to the first: what does Rowling show us of Dumbledore’s conduct as it relates to homosexuality/same-sex desire. We’ll answer this question at two levels: on the surface, then under the surface.
On the surface, Rowling shows us nothing of Dumbledore’s same-sex attraction. That’s why people were shocked when she announced it. Observe: Dumbledore never overtly declares that he is gay. He never says or does anything to identify or define himself in those terms or by his own desires. Dumbledore never evidences a desire for a day when people’s conception of what is “moral” will be different so that he can pursue his impulses without social stigma. Dumbledore never encourages anyone to “transcend” moral norms of acceptable sexual orientation. In fact, I contend that Dumbledore would view that not as transcendent but as transgression, and this is precisely what makes him heroic.
Had Rowling not told us Dumbledore was gay, we would never suspect it. We would have seen Dumbledore as the self-sacrificial, wise, good hero that he is. And we would be right. Now let’s move from the surface, from what we can know from reading the novels for ourselves, below the surface, to what we might suggest about what Rowling shows in the novels now that she has given us this tidbit about her conception of Dumbledore.
I want to make three suggestions here: first, Dumbledore seems to have chosen a life of celibate singleness. Second, Dumbledore seems to take steps to protect himself and others from his own harmful impulses. Third, Rowling is therefore implicitly presenting Dumbledore as a heroic model for how those who struggle with same sex attraction can nevertheless be good and true.
First, Dumbledore has no partner. Rowling indicates that he had a dalliance in his youth, a dalliance that involved a plan to raise up a new world order, likely extending to a redefinition of sexual morality. While Rita Skeeter and other slanderers use Dumbledore’s youthful mistakes to call his character into question, the characters in the novel who see the truth understand that while Dumbledore may have forayed into those waters in his youth, he fled them and spent the rest of his life fighting those floods. Dumbledore seems to have learned from his own past, and he seems to view his youthful involvement with Grindelwald as a mistake. As a result of his own mistakes and his awareness of his own weaknesses, he is prepared to extend mercy, to give second chances to the likes of Rubeus Hagrid and Remus Lupin. He even trusts Severus Snape. Dumbledore is a great man not because he looks at people’s wickedness and trusts them anyway. He is a great man because though aware of people’s past wrong choices, he is willing to give them new chances to make the right choices. I would add that Dumbledore is fully prepared at all times to accept responsibility for his mistakes, for his own wrong choices, and he confesses them and repents. His desire in giving second chances is a desire for others to recognize their own wrongs, turn from them, and do right in the future.
Second, think of the way that Dumbledore protects himself and others from his own weaknesses. In chapter 37 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore explains to Harry that he distanced himself from Harry to keep Voldemort from exploiting any perception that their “relationship was—or had ever been—closer than that of a headmaster and pupil.” Dumbledore explains that had Voldemort known of his love for Harry, Voldemort would have used Harry against Dumbledore. There is nothing in the book at this point that would lead anyone to the conclusion that Dumbledore might have felt inappropriate, perverse desires mixed with his appropriate love for Harry, but the passage takes on deeper, unstated meaning in light of what Rowling has told us about Dumbledore’s inclination. In fact, what Rowling has told us enables us to see Dumbledore as more heroic, not less. There is not the slightest hint that Dumbledore used his position as headmaster of Hogwarts to gratify his own desire. There is every indication that Dumbledore recognized ways that magic could be used in the service of illicit pleasures and he opposed all such use of magic—think of the way that Dumbledore warned Harry of the temptation presented by the Mirror of Erised.
All this leads me to think that what J. K. Rowling is celebrating is not homosexuality but virtue as traditionally conceived. Virtue is not the redefinition of sexual morality away from biblical norms, away from the dictates of nature. Virtue is the rejection of wicked desire, desire that would lead us away from biblical norms. Virtue is choosing the true, the good, and the right, even if—precisely when!—what we want is the false, the bad, and the wrong. Albus Dumbledore is heroic because he is virtuous, because he is Christ-like, because he is a celibate single who refused and repudiated his own immoral impulses.
In reaction to Rowling’s declaration, “One blogger wrote on a fansite: ‘My head is spinning. Wow. One more reason to love gay men.’” But Rowling herself contrasts Dumbledore with Bellatrix Lastronge. She said of Dumbledore, “he met someone as brilliant as he was and, rather like Bellatrix, he was very drawn to this brilliant person and horribly, terribly let down by him.” (source). This comparison is instructive: Bellatrix is evil because rather than repudiating what attracted her for the sake of what was right, she abandoned what was right and chose what she desired. Dumbledore did the opposite. Rather than indulge his desire though it was wrong, he crucified his desire and chose to do what was right. That blogger misunderstood. Rowling’s declaration is not “one more reason to love gay men” but one more reason to celebrate and admire those who—whether repentant traitors or werewolves—repudiate their own evil impulses and choose what is good and right instead.
Postscript: I haven’t read Jerram Barrs’ book yet, but I just saw on Justin Taylor’s blog that Barrs has an appendix in his forthcoming Echoes of Eden entitled “The Outing of Dumbledore.” I’ve been thinking about what Rowling said about Dumbledore since it was first brought to my attention, and seeing that Barrs has an appendix on it spurred me to finish this post. I don’t know what Barrs will say, but this is my take on Rowling’s declaration that in her conception of Dumbledore he felt same-sex attractions.
This post originally appeared at Christianity.com.
And the LORD will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
A text worth memorizing!
Watch this video:
The Scriptures and the Shrine: On the Keeping of an Authoritative Copy of the Scriptures at the Temple
Some questions have been raised by Charles Halton and T. Michael Law about the suggestion that an authoritative copy of the Scriptures would have been maintained at the temple in Jerusalem, making discussions of the canon unnecessary prior to the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Law tweeted that there is “not a shred of evidence.”
I think there is abundant evidence for this already in the Old Testament, and then the indications that the Scriptures were kept at the shrine continue in extra-biblical Jewish literature.
- Exodus 40:20, “[Moses] took the testimony and put it into the ark . . .”
- Deuteronomy 31:9, “Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.”
- Deuteronomy 31:24–26, “When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, ‘Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.’”
This explains why the king was to write a copy of the Torah that would be “approved by the Levitical priests” (Deut 17:18). The priests had the authoritative scroll and were its stewards.
This process continued after Moses:
- Joshua 24:25, “So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. . .’”
And the reality of the Word of God being kept in the temple is attested in Kings:
- 1 Kings 8:9, “There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt.”
This also explains why there was a scroll for Hilkiah to find in the temple in 2 Kings 22. Incidentally, in view of the reference to the “lying pen of the scribes” in Jeremiah 8:8, I would suggest that the significance of the scroll that Hilkiah found was not that it was the only one in existence but that it was the authoritative one that could demonstrate the falsehood of the lies against which Jeremiah contended.
Milton Fisher writes:
“There is now abundant evidence from the ancient Near East of a ‘psychology of canonicity’—viz., a sensitivity to the inviolability of authoritative documents as far back as early second millennium B.C. This will not surprise the careful reader of the Bible. He finds no difficulty in statements that Moses (Deut 31:9ff. ), Joshua (Josh 24:25, 26), and Samuel (1 Sam 10:25) placed written covenant documents in the sanctuary, for this paralleled the common practice among surrounding peoples of that day” (Fisher, EBC 1:387).
R. K. Harrison notes
“Such language was also found in Hittite suzerainty treaties, which contained a clause requiring deposition of the text in some secure location so that in subsequent generations the treaty would be available for public reading” (Harrision, ISBE 1:593).
2 Maccabees states that Nehemiah had “founded a library,” probably a reference to the collected canonical Scriptures, and like him Judas Maccabee “collected the books that had been lost on account of the war . . . and they are in our possession.” The text reads as follows:
- 2 Maccabees 2:13–15, “The same things are reported in the records and in the memoirs of Nehemiah, and also that he founded a library and collected the books about the kings and prophets, and the writings of David, and letters of kings about votive offerings. In the same way Judas also collected all the books that had been lost on account of the war which had come upon us, and they are in our possession. So if you have need of them, send people to get them for you.”
Roger Beckwith cites texts from Josephus, the Mishna, and the Tosephta on the point that there was “a copy of the Pentateuch in the Temple called ‘the Book of Ezra’. This was probably the oldest and most revered copy of all, traditionally believed to have been written by Ezra the Scribe. If the standardization of the Massoretic text was a process which began in Temple times, as it now seems to have been, the existence of the ‘Book of Ezra’ and the other Temple Scriptures probably had much to do with it” (OT Canon of the NT Church, 83–84).
I think this evidence shows that Moses initiated the preservation of God’s word in the ark of the covenant, making the Levitical priests the stewards of the Torah. Later OT texts indicate that God’s authoritative word was kept at the temple, resulting in it being there for Hilkiah to find in Josiah’s day. Ezra’s significance in his return to the land, seen in both Ezra and Nehemiah, included his being “a ready scribe,” one who thoroughly knew the Scriptures and could quickly find his way in them.
What evidence is there that this canonical consciousness seen in the OT texts suddenly disappeared? What evidence is there that the practice of keeping God’s authoritative word at the temple ceased to be a concern of the Jews who lived between Malachi and Jesus?
Arguments from silence based on deductions from fragmentary evidence or translation practices do not overturn the asseverations in 2 Maccabees and Josephus (along with other texts) that there was an authoritative scroll kept at the temple. See Beckwith for full documentation.
There is an ongoing debate about when the books of the Old Testament were recognized as Scripture and when, or whether, there was a closed circle of books that were recognized to be inspired by the Holy Spirit prior to the time of Jesus. Related questions include where the additional material found in the Greek translations of books such as Daniel and Esther came from, why it was added, and what this material might indicate about the status of these books.
Jason Parry is doing his dissertation here at SBTS under Peter Gentry on “The Character of the Greek Version of Daniel Attributed to Theodotion.” As we corresponded on his prospectus, I asked his thoughts on the deuterocanonical material in Daniel. His reply was so good I asked him if he would reformat it for a blog post, which he graciously did.
Here’s Jason Parry’s take on the evidence:
The arguments for textual pluralism and literary development of biblical texts in Hellenistic Judaism, and for standardization of the text and formation of the Hebrew canon in the second century AD, often seem impressive because much evidence can be cited to demonstrate that the Jews were developing various versions of biblical texts in the period prior to the second century AD.
The Old Greek version of Daniel, for example, not only departs significantly from the MT in several chapters, but even inserts an apocryphal side-story right into the middle of the plot in chapter 3. The Greek version of Daniel attributed to Theodotion is much closer to the MT than the Old Greek version, but nevertheless retains this apocryphal story found in the Old Greek.
The fact that the translators felt free to deviate from the Hebrew-Aramaic text and to insert apocryphal material could be considered evidence that textual pluralism was in the air and that no canonical boundaries were known to these translators.
However, this same evidence could be interpreted differently. It is possible that the translators were well aware of a standard, authoritative version of the text and of canonical boundaries, but felt free to deviate from that canonical text on account of its official preservation at the Temple. The goal of the Temple scribes was to preserve the authoritative textual tradition of the canonical text in its original language, while the scribes and translators outside of Temple circles were free to develop popular alternative versions of the texts which potentially deviated from the original in language, narrative style, and even in some content, with the goal of appealing to the Jewish and Gentile masses. The distinction between the standard canonical text and the popular deviating versions was not subject to confusion in the period prior to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, since the standard text was in all probability stored at the Temple.
The latter explanation of the textual plurality of the Hellenistic period is more probable than the claim of a late date for the standardization and canonization of the text, because it accounts not only for the evidence of multiple versions of texts, but also for the evidence of a canonical consciousness prior to the second century AD.
Thus the fact of textual plurality does not necessarily imply a philosophy of textual pluralism among Hellenistic Jews, since they could simultaneously preserve a canonical textual tradition at the Temple while producing accessible and appealing popular texts for the masses. After the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, however, the Jews had to become more intentional about articulating their canonical boundaries and guarding their textual tradition in order to avoid confusion between the two types of texts.
My understanding of the period, then, could be summarized as follows:
2nd/1st century BC – Diverse Jewish groups, some of whom (like OG-Dan) are interested in popularizing the stories and texts and creating new literature which was loosely connected to the canonical material. Perhaps this reflects a “seeker-friendly” approach to promoting Judaism. Other Jews are more interested in preserving the textual tradition and sticking close to the proto-MT. The official canonical texts are guarded in the Temple so there’s no confusion as to what’s what in any case.
Late 1st century BC and early 1st century AD – At least some Jews are editing their Greek texts towards the proto-MT, the prime example of which is the oft-cited Greek Minor Prophet Scroll from Nahal Hever which Barthélemy published and analyzed in Les Devanciers d’Aquila. The scroll can be dated to the 50 BC to AD 50 range. However, there’s probably still a willingness to retain apocryphal (or deuterocanonical) material during this period, which has become popular in the preceding two centuries, and there’s still no confusion as to the official text since the Temple is standing. Theodotion, or at least the Greek version attributed to him, probably belongs to this period.
Late 1st century AD and 2nd century AD – Jews as a whole become more intentional about declaring their canonical boundaries and textual tradition since the Temple is lost and the Christians are gaining ground using Jewish writings and Scripture. The Jews discuss their canonical boundaries by asking themselves which books have always been in their canon; these discussions were previously unnecessary because the canonical text had been stored at the Temple. The Temple text presumably is preserved from destruction in AD 70 and is handed down to become what we now call the MT.
It is thus possible to account for diversity and even literary development in biblical texts of Hellenistic Judaism without abandoning the long-held belief that our MT for the most part preserves a reliable tradition from before the Hellenistic period.
One of the early “four views” books was edited by Robert G. Clouse and titled The Meaning of the Millennium.
George Eldon Ladd represented the historic premil position, Herman A. Hoyt dispensational premillennialism, Loraine Boettner postmillennialism, and Anthony A. Hoekema amillennialism. Each contributor responds to the presentations made by each of the others, and typically the responses are 3-4 pages. The exception is Ladd’s reply to Boettner’s argument for postmillennialism, which is a mere two paragraphs and 147 words. The first sentence is telling, but I here reproduce the whole of Ladd’s response:
‘There is so little appeal to Scripture that I have little to criticize. The argument that the world is getting better is a two-edged sword. One can equally well argue from empirical observation that the world is getting worse. In New Testament times, civilization enjoyed the great Pax Romana—two centuries when the Mediterranean world was at peace. This has never been repeated. Our lifetime has seen two worldwide wars and an unending series of lesser wars—in Korea, Vietnam, the Near East, Ireland, Lebanon. We have witnessed the rise of Nazism with its slaughter of six million Jews, the rise and fall of fascism, the rise and stabilization of Communist governments. The world today is literally an armed camp.
Boettner makes the mistake of defining premillennialism in terms of dispensationalism. As my chapter shows, I do not pursue the literalistic hermeneutic attributed to ‘premillennialists’ by Boettner.’
That’s all Ladd has to say about it!
I submit that any advance postmillennialism may be making today is attributable entirely to the florid prose of Douglas Wilson. There is no biblical warrant for it.
John presents Jesus claiming to fulfill the Old Testament in dense and various ways in John 3:1–15:
- He claims to bring in the promised kingdom of God (3:3, 5).
- He claims to bring the cleansing and renovation of attitude prophesied in Ezekiel 36:24–26 through the new birth (3:5–6).
- He claims that this renewal partakes of the resurrection blowing of the Spirit prophesied in Ezekiel 37:1–14 (3:8).
- He claims to be the ascending and descending son of the one who is in heaven from Proverbs 30:4 (3:13).
- He claims to be the Daniel 7:13–14 son of man (3:13–14).
- He claims to be the servant who acts wisely who will be exalted from Isaiah 52:13 (3:14).
- He claims to be the typological fulfillment of the bronze serpent from Numbers 21:4–9 (3:14).
Jesus is the key to understanding the Old Testament.
Jesus fulfills the prophecies.
Jesus matches and exceeds what was typified.
Archetype and resolution of the patterns,
Interpreter of mysteries and himself the solution of them,
Jesus is the culmination of the centuries and the telos of the ages.
Worship him. Love him.
Commit your soul to him and make him your destiny, your purpose, your life’s agenda and meaning.
There is nothing better than what Jesus has done.
There is nothing better than what Jesus makes possible.
There is nothing more powerful that could happen to us than this new birth he brings.
Cleansing from sin with its pure water.
Soul-renewing change at the very spirit of who you are.
Holy Spirit divine power to bring to pass this purifying renewal.
No lack of ability in the Spirit.
No impure motive or purpose at work in what he does.
No possibility of him failing.
Behold the glory of Jesus. Trust him. Be born again.
Forgiveness for all your sin.
Cleansing from all its stain.
Freedom from all its power.
Qualified to see and enter the kingdom.
Enabled to live not just in the flesh but in the sphere of the Spirit.
Illumined to understand the Scriptures.
Given eternal life.
Won’t you believe?
Won’t you savor?
Won’t you hope?
Won’t you cling to these words until the Day?
He is worthy.
–From the conclusion of “You Must Be Born Again” on John 3:1–15, preached at Kenwood Baptist Church on September 29, 2013. For more on what John presents Jesus saying about the new birth, have a listen, or check out the discussion of the passage in God’s Indwelling Presence.
Mike Wittmer is one of my favorite theologians. Heck he’s one of my favorite people. So I’m glad to see that he continues to find ways to say Don’t Stop Believing, the latest being a new book entitled Despite Doubt: Embracing a Confident Faith.
Here’s a trailer for the book:
Mike has preached a sermon with this title. I suspect Mike’s preaching will strengthen your confidence and bring a smile to your face.
This is a short book of short chapters. Despite Doubt will speak to those wrestling with big questions and seeking to know the truth.
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