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Recovering a Vision: The Presidency of R. Albert Mohler Jr.

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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. [26]), 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.

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Was There an Old Testament Before the New Testament? A Guest Post from Jason Parry

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:

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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.

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George Eldon Ladd’s Response to Postmillennialism

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.

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Jesus and the Old Testament in John 3:1–15

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.

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Despite Doubt by Mike Wittmer

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:

Despite Doubt: Embracing a Confident Faith by Michael E. Wittmer from Discovery House Publishers on Vimeo.

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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Gospel Transformation Bible Releases Today

Dane Ortlund has the details on the most important thing you’ll see online today: the release of the Gospel Transformation Bible.

I’m eager to consult these notes and grateful for Crossway.

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Coloring Pages for The Bible’s Big Story

The more senses we involve in an activity, the more we learn. I am delighted that Christian Focus has posted three “coloring pages” from The Bible’s Big Story. Here’s hoping these will bring tactile delight and result in deeper awareness of the world’s true story, a story of sin, promise, and triumphant redemption.

We print coloring pages from the web all the time in our house. Now you can print the following three pages, and your little ones can work some crayola magic on them:

Adam and Eve

Abraham and Sarah

David and Goliath

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John Meade Reviews T. Michael Law

John Meade is doing a multi-part review of T. Michael Law’s book, When God Spoke Greek. At one level neither Law’s claims nor Meade’s response is new. At another level, these questions are constantly being re-examined, and the re-hashing of the debate can bring things into sharper focus. Like Martin Hengel and Lee Martin McDonald, T. Michael Law claims there was no OT canon prior to the second century AD. Like Robert Hanhart and Roger Beckwith, Meade responds that the evidence can be read another way. Here are some excerpts from Meade, with whom I agree:

“As stated in the first post, Michael Law set out to write a narrative history of the Septuagint, a worthwhile endeavor to say the least. So much goes into writing a history but the first obstacle one must face is that the facts are not self-interpreting. To be sure Law no where claims that they are, but it should be stated in a critique which is going to offer an alternative way of analyzing the data.”

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“Law portrays the forming and perhaps closing of the Hebrew Bible as occurring in the 2nd CE. This is not a new view and can be found in many manuals on the Old Testament. As one attempting to read Law’s book carefully, the question is does Law deny even a canonical consciousness or a developing canon in the period before the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE? In the book he does not admit of a canonical consciousness in the the preceding period, but I am open to correction on this point. In his recent blog post on the question he does treat some of the relevant evidence but he still does not speak of a canonical consciousness or developing canon. Here is the problem with Law’s view: during the time of Jesus and long before Jesus the Jews refer to a collection or corpus of books, which means they had at the very least some consciousness of their collection and what that final collection might be; an idea of which books would eventually be in and which books would eventually be out. The assumption is that the authors and readers shared a mutual understanding of what these titles denoted. The alternative assumption is that the author wrote nonsense when using these titles and therefore the titles do not refer to a set collection or corpus of books and therefore they do not communicate to the readers. The following are only the so-called tripartite titles (there are many single and bipartite titles which refer to the same reality as well)”

Meade here discusses evidence from Ben Sira, 4QMMT, the NT Gospels, and Philo, mentioning also Josephus, drawing two conclusions:

“(1) What does this evidence mean? On page 71 Law comments on Sirach, “‘The other ancestral books,’ according to this assumption [complete Hebrew Bible by 132 BCE], would be the Writings (Ketuvim). Most scholars, however, do not accept this hypothesis since the ‘other ancestral books’ could refer to anything, including the books that never became canonical. At best it seems that the Torah and Prophets might have been a known collection by this time, but we should not read this statement in the Prologue as a confirmation of the later canon of the Hebrew Bible” (WGSG, 71). At the opening of chapter 3 (cited at the top of this post), Law claimed that prior to the second century CE there was no way of knowing which books would be included in the collection. Here his skepticism recedes, however slightly, and he now holds out the possibility that Torah and Prophets (and on page 42, the Psalms) were already a collection and perhaps canonical by the end of the first century. If Hanhart’s reading of the Prologue is correct, as I am inclined to think, then there was already a categorization of books into canonical and non-canonical, Sirach already being one of the excluded books–a work of edification and reflection on the Law, Prophets, and other books. This would mean that by 132 BCE there is at least a developing canon or a canonical consciousness, not simply in retrospect but in prospect. Prospectively, then, the Jews had a view as to which books they considered canonical.

(2) Two ways to view the evidence? As in all matters historical, there are different ways to view the evidence. The titles for the Old Testament corpus of books indicate to me that there was at the very least a canonical consciousness, a recognized corpus of books by 132 BCE and more probably a closed canon by that time complete with a categorization of the canonical and non-canonical. There are more reasons such as the numbering of the books and the ordering of the books which corroborate this point. Part of the historian’s difficulty is that there are not allot of sources to examine from this period. There is no list of books from this early period. This fact does not mean there was no canon. In the period of the temple there would have been no need for a list of books since those books were all laid up in the temple following ancient precedent (cf. Deuteronomy 31:26; cp. 2 Maccabees 2:13-14). If a Jew during this early period wanted to know her holy books, she would need to go and inquire at the temple. Therefore there is a good reason why no such list was composed at this time–it was not needed. It is interesting that the first lists appear after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE (Bab. Talmud Baba Bathra 14b).”

The whole.

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Mr. Leithart Comes to Louisville

Peter Leithart is one of the most stimulating and well-rounded scholars of the present generation. He and his wife have 10 children, and he pastors Trinity Reformed Church and teaches at New Saint Andrews College.

He has written more books than I’ve had time to read, but I’ve enjoyed his introduction to the Old Testament, his commentary on 1–2 Samuel, his book on hermeneutics, and his biography of Dostoevsky.

The wide-ranging oeuvre broadens apace: he has defended Constantine, written on Athanasius, Jane Austen, Dante, Shakespeare, and more.

How many details he must have forgotten!

I am really excited that he’s coming to Louisville. He’ll be at Community Presbyterian Church doing a conference with Jeff Meyers November 1, 2, and 3 of 2013.

Leithart will be doing an introduction to postmodernism, and Meyers will teach on Ecclesiastes. The conference is entitled, Solomon Among the Postmoderns, drawn from yet another Leithart book title.

You can register here.

I hope to see you there!

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How To Use “The Bible’s Big Story”: Dads, Step Up and Play the Man

Do you know what I’m trying to accomplish with The Bible’s Big Story?

I want you to win the hearts of your children.
I want you to win them through the time you spend with them.
I want you to start when they’re so small they can’t yet climb off your lap and crawl around.
I want you to read to them, and I want you to read to them about the highest and most important things: the Lord, the gospel, the true story of the world in the Bible.

So more than just winning their hearts, I want you to win your kids to the Lord. My prayer is that the big story of the Bible will capture their imagination, that the high King would lay claim to their allegiance, that they would trust him from deepest recess of soul.

I’m trying to help parents–and I really have dads in my crosshairs–obey Deuteronomy 6:7. The ESV translates that verse as follows: “You shall teach them [these words that I command you today, v. 6] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

That phrase “you shall teach them diligently” could also be rendered “you shall repeat them constantly.”

This verse calls fathers to do two things: 1) repeat the Bible constantly to their children, and 2) discuss it with them.

That’s your basic recipe for family discipleship, and I’m trying to help you do it by starting when your children are sitting there on your lap looking at picture books with you.

[Here's a longer discussion of family discipleship interpreting Deuteronomy 6 and Proverbs: “That the Coming Generation Might Praise the Lord,”].

Make no mistake about it: Satan is prowling around like a lion wanting to devour your child. You can’t outsource their discipleship. They need you. Particularly you, Dad.

The other day my wife was telling me how it’s harder for my kids to get to sleep when something has me out of the house and I’m not part of the bedtime routine of family devotions. Without me there, she finds the kids to be more fussy and fearful. She said to me: “Don’t underestimate daddypower.”

Dad’s, I’m calling you to step up.
I’m calling you, fathers, to read to your kids.
I’m calling you to be a man, to take the responsibility God has placed at your feet in the Scriptures.

This is bigger than any free throw you ever shot, bigger than any at-bat with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the winning run in scoring position. This is more important than twitter and blogs and books and news. We’re talking about your kids.

We’re talking about whether you will lay the foundation when they’re small that will put you in position to be heard and heeded when you start warning them against the snares of the devil–snares of porn and predators and pushers. How do you lay that foundation? By establishing yourself as their father in the formative years. Before they start walking, you’re holding them, teaching them what the world is–what it’s for, what life is about.

Step up, dads. For the sake of your children, for the respect of your wife, for your own Christlikeness, for the glory of God, for the church in the generations to come. By all that you love, by all that is holy, in the name of the Lord Jesus, let us take up the solemn charge to train our kids in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Disciple your children.

Play the man. Repeat the Bible constantly to your kids and discuss it everywhere you go, when they get out of bed in the morning, when they go to bed at night, when at home, when out and about (cf. Deut 6:7).

Their souls depend upon it, and if you’re in ministry, your qualification depends upon it.

So how can you use The Bible’s Big Story in your efforts to fulfill the role God has given to you and play the man? (cf. 1 Cor 16:13–14)

Here are some suggestions, following the basic outline of Deuteronomy 6:7, to 1) Repeat and 2) Discuss, and I’m adding the third step of 3) Do It Yourself to get at the idea that is clearly the goal of the repetition and discussion Moses prescribed in Deuteronomy 6:7–living out the Bible. Moses wasn’t calling for Hebrew households to become seminar rooms or discussion forums. He wanted fathers to repeat the Bible to their children and discuss its meaning with them so that they would live out faith and obedience for God’s glory.

Here’s how you can use The Bible’s Big Story to lay the foundation of you being the most influential person in your child’s life. Here are some steps you can take on the path of winning their hearts:

Repeat

1. Read the poem straight through. On each page there is a rhyming couplet and a Bible verse, and this first recommendation is to skip the Bible verses and just read the rhyming couplets of this book. These rhymes comprise one unified poem. By reading the whole poem over and over straight through, the idea is for both you and your little one to find that you have the thing memorized. The poem is intended to be a high-level overview of the whole story (thus its title, The Bible’s Big Story), and my hope is that it will serve as a roadmap for Bible reading.

So read the poem straight through. This is how you read most children’s books, and in this recommendation I’m encouraging you to read the poetry by itself and save the Bible verses on each page for other kinds of trips through the book.

2. Repeat. Maybe your experience is like mine, and you find yourself saying to your toddler: “we just read that book.” On those second and third readings, go more slowly through the pages, and these are the times to read the verses.

Discuss

3. Got a toddler and other kids under the age of 10? We do, and often the older ones gather round as we read to the younger. When this starts happening, don’t just read, discuss. Ask the older kids to tell you more about the pictures and the stories they depict.

4. Talk about what happens between the lines. This little book is only 24 pages. Most of the Bible’s events and teachings are not depicted. Ask your child if they know what happened before or after what’s on a particular page. Let the things depicted in this book be your landmarks, and more and more sketch in the details between the landmarks.

Do It Yourself

These suggestions can be adapted to the age and aptitude of your child.

5. Assuming that you have access to a photocopier (three in one printers are everywhere these days), photocopy a page in black and white and let your child use it as a coloring page.

6. Have your child reproduce the pictures in the book using tracing paper.

7. The next step after tracing paper is of course for your kids to draw their own versions of the pictures in the book, whether reproducing the book’s pictures or doing the scene a different way, or the previous event . . . you get the idea.

8. At our family gatherings, the cousins sometimes do drama presentations. Why not use The Bible’s Big Story for the family (or church) Christmas drama your kids produce. Have them memorize the lines and say them as they act out the story. Get costumes. Make it a yearly tradition at Christmas or easter. Go whole-hog (even if you’re an LSU fan).

9. Are there families of small children whose parents you’re shepherding or discipling? At $4.99, this is a pretty affordable discipleship tool, birthday gift, or party favor. Let me assure you: my goal is not selling more copies or making a name for myself. I want to love God and neighbor. I want God to be glorified as you win the hearts of your kids, as your friends win the hearts of their kids, as fathers establish themselves in the lives of their kids by obeying Deuteronomy 6:7, as families grow in their understanding of the Scriptures together, as disciples are made of all nations.

10. Are there unbelieving family members, friends, or others who sometimes read to your kids? Put this book on the top of the pile. Unbelievers who read this book will be exposed to the big story of the Bible and an exhortation to trust the Lord Christ. I hope and pray The Bible’s Big Story can be a natural evangelistic experience for your unbelieving neighbors, friends, or family members.

These are of course, merely suggestions, and they’re not exhaustive. Have some other ideas? Please do share them in the comments (or post them somewhere–I’d love to know to your thoughts. . .). The main thing is for us to know God by knowing the Bible, and helping you and your kids do that is what I’m after in The Bible’s Big Story.

Look around.
Darkness clouds the horizon.
The culture grows more and more hostile to Christians and Christianity.
Take action.
Redeem the time.
Disciple your kids.

Dads, your wife and children are yours to protect and lead. Play the man.

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A Bible Study for Women on 1 Thessalonians (Free Download)

My sweet wife led the ladies of Kenwood Baptist Church through a study of 1 Thessalonians this summer, and she prepared study questions that prompt a close, meditative examination of Paul’s letter and one’s own heart. This study is geared for women, but I think anyone would profit from reflecting on these questions over an open Bible.

Is there a women’s ministry at your church? Are you part of a Ladies’ Study Group? A group of women in a campus ministry? There are all kinds of settings in which this could be used. Maybe there are some co-workers with whom you could meet for a 5-week study of 1 Thessalonians?

I am so blessed by the gift of my wife. Words can’t communicate what she is to me. I’m glad that other people might benefit from her prayerful preparation of this Bible study, which you can download for free here:

A Bible Study for Women on 1 Thessalonians.

PS: besides being the best theologian I know–there’s no one with whom I’ve had more enjoyable conversations about the Bible, theology, and life–my sweet wife has an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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Why I’m Not a Dispensationalist and Why Darrell Bock Is

Lindsay Kennedy interviewed three folks on questions related to dispensationalism and the millennium. The Dispensationalist is Paul Henebury (part 1 and part 2). Darrell Bock represents Progressive Dispensationalism, and I answered questions from the perspective of Historic Pre-Millennialism.

We all answered similar questions. Here are the ones I answered:

  1. When and how did you first become interested in eschatology?
  2. You studied at Dallas, which has a strong history of dispensationalism. How influential was Dallas on your theology? Did you ever hold to dispensationalism?
  3. In brief, why you are not a dispensationalist today?
  4. What would you see as some distinctive aspect(s) of your view (Historic Premillennialism)?
  5. What do you believe about the rapture and its timing in relation to the second coming of Christ?
  6. What (if any) future role does the nation of Israel have to play in God’s plan?
  7. What is the purpose of the future Millennium?
  8. Other than the Bible, were there any influential authors/books in developing your current eschatological views?
  9. Do you have any publications that best represent your position more fully than this interview allows?
  10. How important should eschatology be to the Christian?
  11. What encouragement would you give to someone who sees eschatology as unimportant?

Replies here.

I found it interesting that just as Lindsay asked me why I’m not a dispensationalist, he asked Bock to differentiate his view from the others and to explain why he stuck with dispensationalism. Here’s the exchange:

What are the differences between your view, Progressive dispensationalism (PD), and traditional dispensationalism? Why do these differences matter?

These are catalogued in the book Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism. The key one is the continuity PD (Progressive Dispensationalism) sees in the Covenants and that all three are inaugurated in Jesus’ first coming. For example, Jesus’ seating and activity at God’s right hand is seen as the execution of messianic activity that is tied to the New Covenant (as his seating is a part of the Davidic covenant).

This also has meant the Gospels and prophets become more important for contemporary ethics than they were in some older forms of dispensationalism (I say older forms because there is not just one brand of traditional dispensationalism but several). So that is why the difference matters.

If you see problems with traditional dispensationalism, why seek to adapt it rather than simply adopting Historic Premillennialism as others have done?

Because there is a distinction between Israel and the church in God’s program that Historic Premillennialism equivocates about. PD is also clearer on a future for national Israel.

I don’t think of myself as equivocating in the way I understand the relationship between the church and Israel, but I think I can see how it might look like it from Bock’s perspective. Anyway, here are a couple related questions Lindsay asked me:

In brief, why you are not a dispensationalist today?

Because as I read G. E. Ladd’s New Testament Theology, it made sense to me when he said that Jesus chose twelve Apostles to reconstitute a new Israel around himself. That undermined the hard and fast distinction between Israel and the Church that dispensationalism maintains. Further overturning this distinction is the pervasive way in which the New Testament authors present what Jesus has done and is doing in the church as the typological fulfillment of the Old Testament, which means that the church is a typological fulfillment of Israel (this does not nullify a future for ethnic Israel). I think Dispensationalism puts blinders on people and keeps them from seeing the typological interpretations of earlier Scripture pursued by the biblical authors in the Old and New Testaments.

Then I studied Revelation as I preached through it, and I didn’t see a pre-trib rapture. Then I studied Daniel as I preached through it, and I didn’t see a pre-trib rapture. Then I studied through and preached Revelation again as I wrote Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, and I became convinced that dispensationalists are not interpreting Daniel’s seventieth week the way that John does in Revelation. The emphasis on literal fulfillment fails to account for the typological and symbolic ways later biblical authors interpret earlier Scripture.

People (not just dispensationalists) make rules about how to interpret the Bible, but the biblical authors don’t follow those rules. So I don’t hold to or teach those rules. I want to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. That’s what I’m seeking as I pursue the task of biblical theology. I’m not claiming that I’ve exhaustively mapped this new world, but what a privilege to explore it and try to help others find their way in it!

What (if any) future role does the nation of Israel have to play in God’s plan?

I think Romans 11:25–27 indicates that on the day that Christ returns there will be a mass conversion of ethnic Jews.

That reference to mapping and exploring a new world comes out of my view of biblical theology as a bridge, or a rocket, into another kind of world, the world as conceived by the biblical authors. On which, see further What Is Biblical Theology?

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Biblical Theology in a Children’s Book? Introducing the Bible’s Big Story

I remember the first time someone presented to me, all at one shot, an overview of the Bible’s big story. It was in the famous Bible Study Methods and Hermeneutics class taught by Howard Hendricks and Mark Bailey at Dallas Seminary. That overview was so exciting to me I thought all Christians should go to seminary, because all Christians should be able to see the Bible’s inter-connectedness. What was so compelling about that presentation was the way it attempted to set out the big picture, the whole Bible, with its turning points and movements in thought (and, in that telling, changes in dispensations). To that point in my life, I had never been presented with an explanation of the whole story.

I’m convinced that the Bible does tell a unified story, that the later biblical authors were aware of earlier Scripture, and that they were consciously contributing to the developing revelation of himself God was giving. There is a big story in the Bible, and you shouldn’t have to go to seminary to hear about it! What if you could read it to your kids–in less than 5 minutes for less than $5–right there in your rocking chair?

Children’s books can be great fun to read and re-read to the kids–if they’re well written (I love the language in Little Cricket’s Song) and/or tell a great story (we never tire of Fool Moon Rising). Some of these books my wife and I are able to recite from memory. Children’s books can have a profound impact on parents: Tom Schreiner once said in a sermon at Clifton Baptist Church that Goodnight Moon was his favorite. That book has great rhythm.

A few years ago I felt led to select what I thought were the signposts at the major turning points, in the Bible’s big story, try to set them in rhyming couplets, and see if the result might become a children’s book. The goal was to produce something that would help parents and kids remember the high points of the whole story. There is value in being able to see the whole thing all at once, to behold about the unity of the Bible, and to cut a path through the neurons and synapses that will be walked and re-walked, run and re-run. We want to cut the Bible grooves deep in our brains, and we can do this with the wee ones as we read and re-read to them.

My oldest son was the original artist on the project, which we worked on together when he was four and five years old. I would ask him to draw a picture, not give him instructions beyond telling him about the event from the Bible that I wanted him to depict. He would bring the picture back, and I would scan it in and format it with the rhymes I had come up with. A few years ago (after we had been turned down by a couple publishers) I posted the result of our joint efforts.

Upon seeing that post, some friends encouraged me to continue to seek publication. There was a guy in Australia I’ve never met, my friend John Thacker offered to help in any way he could, my friend Adam Richardson cheered the project on, and Andy Naselli told me that his daughter loved to have the book read to her. So I mentioned it to a friend at Christian Focus, who gave me the name of the contact person there, and off we sent it again. Praise God, they decided to publish it, with new drawings by Tessa Janes, and recently hard copies arrived on our doorstep.

I’m not sure how all this works, but apparently the UK release date is about a month earlier than the USA release date, so I’m guessing that I’ve received advanced UK release copies. I’m assuming that means that it will be available in the US near the end of August or beginning of September (Amazon has the date of September 10).

My hope is that if you have little children, you will read many many books to them. I also hope you’ll read this one to them over and over, to the point that both you and your child have the rhymes memorized, which will enable you to take a mental stroll through the Scriptures, which I hope will enable you to meditate on them day and night, so you can be one of those trees whose leaf won’t wither.

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The Song of Wisdom’s Call

I’ve been enjoying this musical adaptation of Proverbs 1 from Ordinary Time:

 

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Review of Brown, Spirit in the Writings of John

Spirit in the Writings of John: Johannine Pneumatology in Social-scientific Perspective. By Tricia Gates Brown. JSNTSupp 253. New York: T & T Clark, 2003. Pp. 307. ISBN 0-5670-8442-6. $55.00, paper.

Published in Bulletin for Biblical Research 16.1 (2006) 168–69. 

Tricia Gates Brown is an independent scholar living in Newberg, OR. The book reviewed here appears to be her doctoral dissertation written at the University of St. Andrews under Ron Piper. She has also written Free People: A Christian Response to Global Economics (2004), and she is something of an anti-war activist (see the online essays that come up from a Yahoo search on her name).

Spirit in the Writings of John consists of an introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion. The introduction presents the method of social-scientific criticism prosecuted in the study, and it also reveals some of Brown’s assumptions. Chapter 1 continues the introduction by outlining patron-client relations in the ancient world. It is difficult to discern any logical connection between chapters 1 and 2, as chapter 2 summarizes “Four Approaches to Johannine Pneumatology”: C. H. Dodd, George Johnston, Felix Porsch, and Gary Burge. Chapter 3 exegetes the Spirit texts in the Fourth Gospel. Chapter 4 treats the Paraclete in John, and Chapter 5 deals with Spirit in 1 John. The conclusion summarizes the results of the study, and the author ends by expressing “the hope that understanding the socio-cultural contexts of these writings will allow readers [of John and 1 John] to appreciate their value as texts without embracing their tone” (267). We might ask whether the evangelist (or his rabbi) would react favorably to readers who appreciate the Gospel but feel they can improve upon its tone. Such a response reflects a failure to appreciate the import of the text. Adolf Schlatter might go farther and call this “a radical and total polemic against” its message (cf. “The Theology of the New Testament and Dogmatics,” in R. Morgan, ed., The Nature of New Testament Theology, 122).

The author begins her study with the assertion, “John’s spirit-passages hint at the experiences of the author and his community” (1). It soon becomes clear that Brown has no room for the possibility that what the Fourth Gospel reveals about the Spirit originated in the evangelist’s experience with Jesus. No argument is given for the conclusion that the author of John is more concerned with addressing his community than testifying to what Jesus said, but throughout the study is conducted as though what gave rise to what John says took place after rather than during the life of Jesus. Brown does not seem to be troubled by the fact that, in view of the author’s protests that his testimony about Jesus is true, this would imply that he disingenuously presents a fictitious account as history. In addition to the implication that the evangelist intends to deceive his readers, the failure to consider the influence of the world changing figure the evangelist credits with generating many of these statements about the Spirit, Jesus of Nazareth, is glaring.

“The main social-scientific model used in this study is the model of patron-client relations” (19), but there are several problems with this method. The Gospel of John provides its readers with many metaphors for understanding the relationships between God, Jesus, and the people of God, for example: “logos-creator and creatures,” “Father-children,” “Father-Son,” “Rabbi/teacher-disciples,” “well of living water,” “bridegroom-bride,” “healer,” “judge,” “bread of life,” “light of the world,” “good shepherd,” “Messianic King,” “servant,” “vine-branches,” “friends.” The imposition of a relationship the Gospel does not use, that of patron-client, fails to capture what is communicated by these images that the Gospel does employ, obscures the breadth and width of these realities, and introduces concepts foreign to the Gospel. For instance, Brown develops the idea that by the Spirit Jesus is the best “broker”—her term—between God and his “clients” (cf. 28–30, 56–61). In our language and culture, the financial connotations of the term “broker” are simply too strong for this to be helpful. Brown’s imposition of this alien concept hides the varicolored beauty of the Gospel of John under a particular shade of green, the color of cash. The reduction of the tender depth of the relationship between God and his people communicated in John to a crass, remuneratory exchange is at best reductionistic and borders on the offensive.

Scholars working on the Spirit in John might benefit from the bibliography (its value is limited since its most recent items were published in 1999, nothing published in this millennium appears). An index of Scripture, other ancient literature, and modern authors will also make particular discussions quickly accessible.

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Review of Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ

Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. xxii + 746pp. $55.00. Hardcover.

Published in The Southwestern Journal of Theology 46.3 (2004), 99-100

Larry Hurtado, professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, is well known for his many fine contributions to scholarship, and this volume is no exception. Hurtado’s aim in this book is “to offer a full-scale analysis of the origin, development, and diversification of devotion to Christ in the crucial first two centuries of the Christian movement (ca. 30-170 C.E.)” (2). Hurtado’s intended audience is the guild, and he hopes to “(re)shape scholarly opinion” (xiv), so his interaction with other scholars is extensive.

Not only is the interaction with other scholars extensive, Hurtado covers all the primary data one could desire and more as he shows “how astonishingly early and quickly an impressive devotion to Jesus appeared” (215). What makes this astonishing is, among other things, Jewish Monotheism (cf. Deut 6:4). And yet, as Hurtado demonstrates, the early Christians remained monotheists even as they worshiped Jesus as God together with Yahweh.

The book consists of ten chapters. Hurtado begins by discussing the various “Forces and Factors” that must be considered as ancient times are described. From there he discusses evidence from Paul’s letters (ch. 2), from Acts (“Judean Jewish Christianity,” ch. 3), from “Q” (ch. 4.), from “Jesus Books” (the Synoptic Gospels, ch. 5), from John (ch. 6), from “Other Early Jesus Books” (New Testament Apocrypha, ch. 7), from the “second century” (ch. 8), “Radical Diversity”—found in heretical groups (ch. 9), and “Proto-orthodox Devotion” (ch. 10).

Hurtado sets out to explode many untenable conclusions held on the question of how early Christians thought about Jesus. He devastates the view that it took the Christians a long time to conceptualize Jesus as God, presenting an exhaustive case that “devotion to Jesus emerges phenomenally early in circles of his followers” (2). This is not a difficult thesis for those who believe the Bible to swallow.

This book, however, is intended to persuade people whose view of Scripture is not so high, and hopefully it will be effective in that regard. The weighty tome does a great service in carefully evaluating a huge amount of evidence as well as the mountains of claims about that evidence in the attempt to get at what may be truly concluded from the data. And, the author seeks to present the material in a manner that will be palatable to those whose minds he is trying to change. This raises questions that are worth pondering as we seek to be both truthful and persuasive.

While this book is an example of thorough, thoughtful scholarship, certain aspects of Professor Hurtado’s approach force the question of how Christians should seek to persuade audiences that are sometimes hostile. Hurtado seeks to establish that the early Christians were devoted to Jesus, but he insists “I do not intend thereby either to refute or to validate the religious and theological meaning of early devotion to Jesus” (9, emphasis his). The insistence on integrity with historical data can be appreciated, but can we separate these historical conclusions from the demand they place upon us? Hurtado apparently recognizes that the Academy does not appreciate Christians when he writes, “To come clean, I confess to being guilty of Christian faith” (9). Confessing that Christian faith makes him “guilty,” he apparently seeks to accommodate the unbelieving perspective of his desired audience. For instance, he finds arguments for the authenticity of 1 Peter, James, and Jude “impressive,” but treats them as “pseudonymous” anyway (80 and n. 3). Three times in less than fifteen pages he states that the historical reliability of Acts does not affect the point he is making (162 n. 19; 170 n. 29; 176). He then invests 40 pages in a discussion of the hypothetical document Q. Our only access to this source is through the Synopsis, whereby we discern that there are around 235 verses where Matthew and Luke agree with no Markan parallel. These agreements between Matthew and Luke are our only access to “Q.” There are no extant manuscripts of this hypothetical source. Yet, from scholarly hypothesizing upon the content of these verses, Hurtado can conclude that “Q is apparently a carefully designed text, not a grab bag of Jesus tradition” (257). These examples seem to reflect an overly cautious stance on the authenticity and reliability of canonical texts, accompanied by an embrace of certain aspects of critical orthodoxy that is not cautious enough.

This book is a massive resource, billed as the replacement of Wilhelm Bousset’s 1913 Kyrios Christos. Hopefully the volume, with its sound argument for early Christian devotion to Jesus, useful 47 page bibliography, and extensive indexes, will indeed exercise much influence. We must grapple, too, with the question of what aspects of our world-view are negotiable as we seek to be all things to all people in the effort to win some. As accommodating as Hurtado is in his approach, his conclusions will inevitably be perceived as folly by some (1 Cor 1:18), but no apologies are necessary, for the proclamation of this foolish message has a transforming power.

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