Archive for May, 2008

Grudem, Geisler, and MacArthur on Dual Authorship

Wayne Grudem:


In cases where the ordinary human personality and writing style of the author were prominently involved, as seems the case with the major part of Scripture, all that we are able to say is that God’s providential oversight and direction of the life of each author was such that their personalities, their backgrounds and training, their abilities to evaluate events in the world around them, their access to historical data, their judgment with regard to the accuracy of information, and their individual circumstances when they wrote, were all exactly what God wanted them to be, so that when they actually came to the point of putting pen to paper, the words were fully their own words but also fully the words that God wanted them to write, words that God would also claim as his own.


Norman Geisler:


Judging by the various vocabulary, grammar, styles, figures of speech, and human interests of the various authors, God did not disregard the personality and culture of the biblical writers when He providentially guided them to be the vehicles through which He revealed His written Word to humankind. On the contrary, the Bible is a thoroughly human book in every respect, except that it is without error. Regardless of the mystery surrounding how God was able to make His word certain without the destroying the freedom and personality of the authors, several things are clear. The human authors of Scripture were not mere secretaries taking dictation; their freedom was not suspended or negated, and they were not automatons. What they wrote is what they desired to write in the style that they were accustomed to using. God in His providence engaged in a divine concurrence between their words and His so that what they said, He said.


John MacArthur:


God formed the personality of the writer. God made [him] into the man He wanted him to be. God controlled his heredity and his environment. When the writer reached the point that God intended, God directed and controlled the free choice of the man so that he wrote down the very words of God. God literally selected the words of each author’s own life, out of his personality, his vocabulary, and his emotions. The words were man’s words, but that man’s life had been so framed by God that they were God’s words as well.

Dual Authorship in Matthew 1:22 and 2:15

Although God is ultimately the source of Scripture (2 Tim 3:16), He chose to use human authors as the instruments through which He set forth His written revelation. In using these men to record His Word, God did not suppress the individual personalities or writing styles of the human writers, but rather He used them to communicate precisely what He was pleased to reveal through them. The Bible, then, has a divine author and a human author.


Commonly known as the dual authorship of Scripture, this doctrine is most clearly taught in Peter’s second epistle, where the apostle describes the writing of Scripture as the process in which “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21b). According to Peter, human prophets spoke or wrote the Scriptures, but as they did so, they were superintended by the Holy Spirit in such a way that their very words were from God Himself.


This same understanding of dual authorship is also seen in the Gospel of Matthew, specifically where the apostle introduces quotations from the OT in Matthew 1:22 and 2:15, describing them as “what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet.” In this description, Matthew uses two prepositional phrases to modify the verb “was spoken.” According to Matthew 1:22 and 2:15, these OT prophecies were spoken “by [hupo] the Lord,” and they were spoken “through [dia] the prophet.” Both prepositions in these verses (hupo and dia) are used to indicate the personal means by which the action of the verb is accomplished, often referred to as agency. There is, however, a subtle but significant distinction between the use of these two prepositions, and this distinction makes a helpful contribution to our understanding of the dual authorship of Scripture.


In Matthew 1:22 and 2:15, the preposition hupo is used to express ultimate (or primary) agency, whereas the preposition dia is used to express intermediate (or secondary) agency. The distinction is this: the ultimate agent is the person who is ultimately responsible for the action of the verb, and the intermediate agent is the person who is used by the ultimate agent to carry out that action. In simpler terms, if A is the ultimate agent, B is the intermediate agent, and C is the action of the verb, the idea is that A uses B to perform C.


The implications of this are profound. According to Matthew 1:22 and 2:15, the person who is ultimately responsible for the action of speaking forth the Old Testament prophecies is the Lord Himself, for Matthew refers to the words of prophecy as “what was spoken by [hupo—ultimate agency] the Lord.” In addition, however, these verses also indicate that the Lord used intermediate agents to speak forth these words of prophecy, for Matthew refers to “what was spoken…through [dia—intermediate agency] the prophet.” Put very simply, A (God) used B (the prophets) to perform C (write Scripture).


In Matthew 1:22 and 2:15, then, the doctrine of dual authorship is unmistakable. Did the prophets speak forth the content of the Old Testament? Yes they did. But in doing so they served as a mouthpiece for the One who was ultimately responsible for the words recorded in Scripture. The Bible was indeed written by men, and yet it is truly the Word of God.

Question about Teaching Children NT Greek

I just completed my first year of teaching NT Greek to two of my children, along with four children from another family. For curriculum this year, I used Elementary Greek: Koine for Beginners, Year One, but I wasn’t satisfied with it for a number of reasons (not the least of which was the slowness of the pace—we dragged our feet significantly and still finished the book in about 2/3 of a normal school year).


Anyway, I’d like to get a head start on planning for next fall, so I need to choose some new curriculum. My students are between the ages of 9-14, and I am leaning toward using Basics of Biblical Greek by William Mounce (in which case we would speed through the early chapters, which would be review).


Any other recommendations?

How Can We Trust the NT if We Don’t Have the Original Manuscripts?

One afternoon several years ago, I met a man in a city park who identified himself as a pantheist. As I shared the Gospel with him, he began to raise a series of objections, the first of which dealt with the reliability of the Scriptures. “The Bible was going along fine,” he explained, “until King James came along and changed it all. Now we have no idea what the original Bible actually said.”


This man’s objection was obviously overly simplistic and historically naïve, and yet it does raise an important question. If we do not possess the original manuscripts of the Bible, if the existing manuscripts do not completely agree with each other, and if there is no sure method of determining the original reading where differences exist, then how can we know with certainty what the Bible truly said? Put another way, how can we know that the Bible is trustworthy?


The points of difference between existing manuscripts of the Bible are known as textual variants, and the process of determining the original wording where these variants exist is known as textual criticism. Because this process is at least partly subjective in nature, it is not infallible and therefore we cannot always know with certainty what the original manuscripts said in a given place. For this reason, the question is indeed a significant one: Can we really trust the Bible as it has been handed down to us?


In response, I would like to set aside the Old Testament for the moment and focus instead on the New Testament. More specifically, I would like to suggest three reasons why the differences between the existing manuscripts of the New Testament should not shake our confidence in the reliability of the biblical text. In doing so, I offer these reasons not to convince the unbeliever that Scripture is indeed the Word of God, but rather to bring a measure of comfort to the believer who may be troubled by the fact that we do not possess the original manuscripts of the New Testament.


The Abundance of Existing Manuscripts


First, the New Testament is by far the most remarkably preserved text of the ancient world, both in terms of the number of existing manuscripts and the temporal proximity between the earliest manuscripts and the original they represent. In fact, as of 1994, there were 5,656 existing manuscripts containing all or part of the Greek New Testament, as well as more than 10,000 manuscripts in Latin and more than 1,000 in other languages, all abundant numbers in comparison with other books of the ancient world. Furthermore, the earliest manuscript of the New Testament is only one generation after the originals were written, and many are within four centuries of the originals.


By way of comparison, only ten manuscripts of Caesar’s Gallic Wars exist, the earliest dating 900 years after Caesar; only eight manuscripts of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War exist, the earliest dating 1,300 years after Thucydides; only eight manuscripts of Herodotus’ History exist, the earliest dating 1,300 years after Herodotus; and only two manuscripts of Tacitus’ Histories and Annals exist, the earlier one dating 700 years after Tacitus. As W. Edward Glenny notes, “the number and early date of the NT manuscripts give us great confidence that God’s Word has been preserved in these documents.”


The Insignificance of Most Variants


Second, a high percentage of variant readings in the existing manuscripts are relatively insignificant. In fact, of the 40,000 variants that exist, it is estimated that only 1-2% substantially affect the meaning of the text, because the other 98% consist of “insignificant matters like spelling, word order, differences in style, or confusion concerning synonyms” (Glenny). Furthermore, as Daniel Wallace notes:


In that two percent, support always exists for what the original said—never is one left with mere conjecture. In other words it is not that 90 percent of the original text exists in the extant Greek manuscripts—rather, 110 percent exists. Textual criticism is not involved in reinventing the original; it is involved in discarding the spurious, in burning the dross to get to the gold.


Therefore, the vast majority of the New Testament is textually certain, and in the greatest majority of the cases where variants exist, there is little doubt as to what the original words were.


The Preservation of Primary Doctrines


Third, no major doctrine of the Christian faith is affected in any significant way by any viable textual variant. Therefore, although one cannot have absolute certainty regarding some of the textual variants, he can have confidence in the overall reliability of the New Testament. However, for those who may be yet a little uncomfortable with the remaining margin of error, D.A. Carson draws a helpful analogy:


In my judgment the degree of uncertainty raised by textual questions is a great deal less than the degree of uncertainty raised by hermeneutical questions. In other words, even when the text is certain there is often an honest difference of opinion among interpreters as to the precise meaning of the passage. Few evangelicals, I would like to think, will claim infallibility for their interpretations of the Scriptures; they are prepared to live with the (relatively) small degree of uncertainty raised by such limitations. The doubt raised by textual uncertainties, I submit, is far, far smaller.


In the end, I believe we simply need to fall back on faith and trust. In other words, we need rest in the confidence that our sovereign God not only inspired the text but also providentially oversaw the preservation of Scripture in such a way that the Bible we possess today is indeed reliable. This may not alleviate the need to do the hard work of textual criticism, but it should alleviate the concern that we cannot trust the New Testament, or that it is anything less than the infallible, inerrant Word of God Himself.

MLJ on Preaching

“While men believed in the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God and spoke on the basis of that authority you had great preaching.  But once that went, and men began to speculate and to theorise, and to put up hypotheses and so on, the eloquence and the greatness of the spoken word inevitably declined and began to wane…”

The church God loves to bless (pt 8)

We come now to an 8th and final mark; God blesses churches that (#8) embrace there God-ordained role in this world.


I’m thinking of one role in particular here…An essential aspect of any true church is described in 1 Timothy 3:15; But in case I am delayed, I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.


It is the churches responsibility to guard and support the truth.  Other translations read the pillar and support, buttress, foundation, base, ground, of the truth.  When I read this verse I think of one of those old colonial homes from the deep south that have white marble pillars that support gigantic roofs.  If you knock down one or two of those pillars the roofs coming down on you.  When the Church fails to support and uphold the truth the roof will come down on her as well.


Paul’s metaphor also pictures a foundation on which a structure rests.  One Pastor puts it like this, “It is the solemn responsibility of every church to solidly, immovably, unshakably uphold the truth of God’s Word.”  I’ve heard many people suggest that doctrine and theology are divisive…and that therefore it needs to be ignored or minimized.  Now it is true, the truth often divides before it unites.  But true Biblical unity is always grounded in objective truth.  Just read the book of Jude if you don’t believe me.   Jude 3, Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  Jude feared our common bond in Christ would be lost if Christians didn’t fight for the non negotiable of


God’s mandate to the church is to protect and preserve the truth.  A church that relegates doctrine/theology to secondary places is on the road to apostasy.  Paul tells church leaders in Titus 1 that it is there duty to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.  A pulpit that exhorts in sound doctrine but that never calls out those who’ve departed from the truth is an “errant pulpit”.  The church is called to support and safeguard the truth!  Never forget that healthy doctrine and sound theology lead to holy living (1 Timothy 4:6).  That’s why Titus 2:10 says we’re “to adorn the doctrine of God our savior in every respect.”


The church is not about a building it’s about people.  People that have been saved and set apart by God for God.  It’s our job to strive to be what God’s called us to be.  He’s told us what we’re to be in His precious Word & He’s enabled us to do it by giving us His Spirit.  I’m all about trying to build a Church that will be blessed by God!


God blesses Churches that: #1  Rightly identify and worship the Lord Jesus Christ. #2 Submit themselves entirely to the Bible. #3 are Committed to personal and corporate holiness. #4 Faithfully practice the Biblical ordinances. #5 are Spirit-filled and Spirit led.  #6 are Dedicated to fulfilling the Great Commission. #7 are Devoted to the one another’s. & #8 Embrace there God-ordained role in this world.

The church God loves to bless (pt 7)

God blesses churches that are (#7) devoted to the one another’s.  The church needs to be united before it will ever be greatly used by God.  Community and teamwork are popular expressions but not common commitments in many churches these days.


1 Peter 1:22  says, Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart…One of the ways unbelievers should be able to identify true believers is by observing our love for each other (note John 13:34-35).


Is your congregation known for it’s in-reach as well as it’s outreach?  When someone gets sick, or when they have a baby, or when a spouse gets deployed to Iraq, does your local congregation instinctively act to meet pressing needs?  Do people wait for the deacons or pastors to act before they attempt to do anything?


Of course this category is more then just meeting physical needs.  Some churches are really committed to meeting each others physical needs but are negligent when it comes to identifying and meeting people’s spiritual needs.  A church needs to be committed to meeting both.


If you want a tremendously applicable Bible study all the “one-another” passages…The Bible calls us to: serve one another (Gal. 5:13). To encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11, Eph 4:29ff, Hebrews 3:13, 10:24ff).  To instruct one another (Col. 3:16).  To comfort one another (2 Cor 13:11). To be kind and to forgive one another (Eph 4:32).  To confess our sins to one another (James 5:16), etc, etc.


I know many Believers that are starving for the Word of God and who are craving for true Christian fellowship.  They pray daily that God would direct them to a church that is committed to these basic things.  If your congregation wants to experience Biblical church growth then let the Biblical one another’s characterize you.  God blesses churches that are devoted to the one another’s.

Lloyd-Jones on Preaching

I am one chapter away from finishing up Lloyd-Jones’ classic work “Preaching & Preachers.”  Lloyd-Jones died in 1981 so obviously I only know him through his books and biographies.  Though different in many ways, I see many similarities between MLJ and my former pastor John MacArthur.  Both men are/were very comfortable sharing their convictions and opinions on topics surrounding the pastoral ministry and preaching.  Sometimes they’re a bit too strong in presenting their personal convictions (as opposed to their Biblical convictions).  With that said, both men are/were willing to stand for the Truth even if it meant marginalization and public scorn.  Both men are/were gifts to the universal Church.


In Chapter 13 Jones addresses the topic of “What to Avoid” in preaching.  All in all I found it a somewhat average chapter with an absolutely wonderful concluding summary (pg. 264).  

He writes, “What is the rule then?  It is: be natural; forget yourself; be so absorbed in what you are doing and in the realization of the presence of God, and in the glory and the greatness of the Truth that you are preaching, and the occasion that brings you together, that you are taken up by all this that you forget yourself completely.”

The Church God blesses (pt 6)

Why type of external things do people typically point to when determining whether or not a church is successful and blessed of God?  They often point to a churches’ facilities or the lack their of.  They point to all the programs a church puts on throughout the year.  They point to the size of the congregation (bigger being more blessed).  They identify the people that actually make up the churches’ congregation (do they have prominent community members attending there church?).  Yet when you read through the New Testament those things are never mentioned when evaluating the spiritual health of a congregation.  How shocking!


I acknowledge that this series of posts could have been written by any Christian.  It’s not as if any of my points are super insightful or deep.  Here is the good news.  God loves to bless His children and thankfully He has laid out what He wants His Church to be very clearly.  You just read the Word and it is right in front of you.  That leads me to wonder how so many congregations can miss that which is so plain and obvious?


God blesses Churches that are (#5) Spirit-filled and Spirit-led.


One of the Ascension gifts of the Resurrected Savior is the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 1:8 Jesus says to his disciples,  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…At conversion every Believer receives the Holy Spirit (He’s the down payment if you will of our future inheritance, note also Ephesians 4:30). 


Galatians 5 exhorts us to walk in the Spirit and to be filled w/the Spirit in effort to live a Christ-centered life.  As a church body we must be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, which at minimum, means committing ourselves to prayer and to the Word (Acts 2:42)!  The early Church in Acts was blessed by God for lots of reasons. It’s clear to me they were Spirit-filled and Spirit led and were used mightily by God.  


Next, God blesses Churches that are (#6) dedicated to fulfilling the Great Commission


When is the last time you invited someone to your home church?  When was the last time you shared the gospel with someone who isn’t a Christian?  One of the main reasons why Jesus gave us His Spirit was to fulfill this purpose. Acts 1:8, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.


Our God is a global-minded God therefore we should be global-minded Christians.  As you know, Missions is about 4 basic things: 1. Giving; 2. Sending (Acts 13); 3. Praying; 4. Going (Mt 28).


1 Peter 2:9  adds this layer, But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  One of the reasons why God saves people is so they can declare His majesty and greatness to the nations.  The gospel is the power of God until salvation and faith comes by hearing; so how will people hear that message without faithful preachers?!? (note the progression in Romans 1-10).


God may not be calling you to China but He is interested in you living out our faith in Freeport, Ill or wherever you might live.  Personal evangelism is not just for evangelists & missionaries!  It’s an individual responsibility and a corporate obligation.  Some churches that are really strong in in-reach are really weak in outreach.  I believe that God still blesses Churches that are (#6) dedicated to fulfilling the Great Commission. 

The Peril of Systematic Expository Preaching on Special Occasions

About once a year I encounter a preaching dilemma related to a special day on the American calendar and the text that comes next in our sermon series. Last Sunday was just such an example. We’re in the book of Nehemiah and last Sunday was chapter three. I struggle to imagine a more challenging text to preach through at any time (save maybe chapter seven of Nehemiah) and having to preach it on Mother’s day was even more daunting.

Unlike some of the other ET authors who schedule their sermons out months in advance, I don’t do this very well. I’ve tried, it just always ends up changing so much I usually scrap it. I also readily admit that I’m not a big fan of special occasion preaching. I know people come with expectations of me saying great things about mom or dad on their special days, but my experience has taught me that if I emphasize one group on a special day, I’ll likely ignore someone else on their special day and end up insulting them unwittingly.

This past Sunday, maybe against wise counsel, I pressed on into Nehemiah three for Mother’s day. Quite a few in the congregation gave me a puzzled look as I began and the PowerPoint showed Nehemiah 3 as the text. Taking the queue from Nehemiah himself, I have to say that, “the good hand of my God was upon me.” I won’t sugar coat this thing, preaching a text that lists records of names and hanging wodden gates is challenging, preaching it on Mother’s day is up hill, both ways in the snow. BUT! Here is the lesson I learned and I trust will be an encouragement to you in your sermon preparation and preaching.

I believe it is those moments that cast us, as preachers, into a place of humility and dependence that might escape us as we get in our exegetical ruts. I was forced out of my normally neat propositional box this past Sunday, but in so doing I really believe that God allowed me to broaden my preaching in general. I was also not able to nuance a lot of things because there is not a lot to nuance in this text. Oh sure, you can go on and on about the kinds of refuse the Jews collected at the Refuse Gate, but honestly, how helpful is that?

Instead, I was forced to take a larger section text that I am normally comfortable taking and to do the hard work of prayerfully finding principles with in a text that seems like a Fort Knox of exegetical gold. I can’t recall praying more for a sermon and honestly, depending less on commentaries. It was me, my Hebrew text, BW 7.0 and lots of time with God. It was invigorating.

How did it go? Only God knows. Thankfully there were no rotten tomatoes thrown and a few encouraging comments. What I am especially thankful for is that God used this challenging text on a very special day to renew my confidence and dependence on him in the preaching enterprise. It forced me to work hard and pray harder. Maybe it was not the best Mother’s day sermon possible, but in the end it made me a more humble preacher and I know that will be a blessing to our church in the long run.

Men, don’t shy away from the challenging texts, even on those special days. I believe it can be a place where God deepens your faith and dependence on him in your preaching.

Press on!

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