Wednesday, 29 October 2008

promises, blessings... then justification and then... covenant??

I am off to France tomorrow to speak at a small one day conference; my topic is the covenant. I have been re-reading some of the classic passages and was arrested by the passing comment in Hebrews in the account of Abraham's meeting with Melchizedek. It reads...

but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham
and blessed him who had the promises. Heb 7:6

I have noted this in the past but it caught my attention again today. Abraham had received promises long before he met Melchizedek. He received a later blessing from Melchizedek to add to the promises. This is all in Genesis 13-14 but he is not 'justified by faith' until Gen 15:6. This is prevenient grace at work; justification came later. Gen 16 then tells the story of the birth of Ishmael and consequently God's personal covenant with Abraham, sealed with circumcision, comes at least 14 years later in Gen 17.

I am not trying to create a doctrine or a necessary pattern but just observing the record that justification can, apparently, take place much later than first hearing God's voice AND much earlier than a personal entering into covenant with God. So what condition was Abraham in during those 'gap' years? I hear the familiar question... "but would he have gone to heaven...?" He was 'right with God' how could he be kept out?

Suppose we transpose this scenario to the New Covenant. Can a man or woman be 'right with God' before they enter into the New Covenant? As the New Covenant is first mentioned in Jeremiah 31 all the 'heroes of faith' recorded in Hebrews 11 were 'right with God' long before the New Covenant. Would this go some way to giving an explanation for so many today who have taken genuine first steps but for whom the 'better things' of the New Covenant are still beyond their reach? Makes you think doesn't it? ... or, at least, it ought to.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Codex Sinaiticus Part 3: Texts and Manuscripts

For many the whole area of Texts and original manuscripts is just an unintelligible minefield. The old joke was 'if it was good enough for Paul it is good enough for me' but there are serious issues at stake here too.

The ESV is increasing in popularity and is heavily endorsed by the likes of Piper and Grudem, but the ESV is based on a different family of manuscripts to those that lie behind the KJV and the NKJV. The ESV also has a different philosophy of translation in spite of its claim to be basically a 'word for word' translation. The ESV is an evangelical RSV and the RSV could never be described as 'basically word for word'; neither can the ESV.

The fact is there are literally thousands of ancient manuscripts but scholars can identify definite family characteristics. The whole theory of the 'transmission of the text' is hypothetical. Although different scholars take different positions on the matter, the fact is they are all hypotheses.

The most carefully reasoned hypothesis, to my mind, is from Robinson and Pierpoint. Essentially it claims that the original form of the Greek texts, known as the autographs is best represented in the texts which have the 'Byzantine' family likeness (sometimes called 'the Majority Text). Robinson surmises that some copyists developed a much freer copying pattern in which the original text was 'expanded' with explanations; these are known as the 'Western' family characteristics. Later copyists tried to redress this by going in the opposite direction and trimming out anything they thought might be an addition; this created shorter versions which are known as having the 'Alexandrian' family likeness. Robinson believes they trimmed out much that was part of the original Greek text. The Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus are members of the 'Alexandrian' family.

For those who 'know a little Greek' (yes, I know the joke about him running a kebab van!!) There is a very valuable and very cheap book available on Amazon. It is called The New Testament in the Original Greek; Byzantine Textform and if you buy it from it will still cost you less than £20 even with postage and packing. It contains a Greek text created by Robinson and Pierpoint and is perhaps the closest we have yet got to those original writings of Paul and the others. For those who are into this kind of thing he provides the textual variants from the NA27 and USB4 modern critical texts in footnotes. He also provides the significant Byzantine variations in marginal notes. This is a very valuable tool and the volume also contains some 'essays' from Robinson in which he sets out very clearly his transmission hypothesis.

OK, for some readers this will not be the most exciting blog they will read today, but if you know people who are seriously trying to understand this whole field, this is a great buy!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

25th October 1958

This is a simple indulgence... it is 50 years ago today that I took my first conscious steps on my pilgrimage. Up until my 11th birthday I had never seen a Bible and only the fact that I needed one for grammar school brought one into our home. I was raised in a good home with good moral parents and required to 'say my prayers' each night but there was no knowledge of the gospel there.

My attendance at grammar school brought me into contact with a fellow student who was about to be 'confirmed'. He asked me if I was interested and I said 'yes'. I had absolutely no idea what 'confirmation' meant nor why I should want it, but I said 'yes' and began confirmation classes. The local vicar was a good friend but not a preacher of the gospel. I was duly confirmed, joined the Sunday School, joined the youth club, joined the choir and anything else that was going. Why? I have no idea!

Some years later a change of vicar brought a 'gospel man' into my life. I suppose he preached the gospel but I have to admit I never heard it. He and his wife invited the young people up to the vicarage to sing hymns after the evening service and that added another weekly event to my religious menu.

In 1958 when I was 16 he set up a film night and showed the film 'Souls in Conflict'. It was a documentary/biography of the Billy Graham crusade of 1956 in Haringey, London. I actually volunteered as a counsellor and did the classes before deciding I would rather be an usher!

On the first showing my world stood still. I had never perceived that it was 'my sins' that he carried on the cross. His commitment to me made my response to him an inevitability. To the opening strains of 'Just as I am...' I took my first conscious steps towards God. I recall one thing above all others, an exhilarating sense of sins forgiven; I felt I was walking on air and heaven was open to my prayer. They say the longest journey must begin with the first step... as far as I know this was mine.

My pilgrimage continues and there were many other important steps to take but tonight I lift my heart in amazed gratitude for God's goodness to me over half a century. What an adventure this has all been and the best still lies ahead.
"My remnant of days

I spend in His praise

Who died the whole world to redeem;

Be they many, or few,

My days are His due,

And they all are devoted to Him."

Friday, 24 October 2008

Paul Washer's 10 Indictments

I am about half way through listening to the recent message of Paul Washer given at the Sermonindex Revival Conference in the USA. I have listened to 5 of the indictments and wanted to get draw your attention to this ministry. I know nothing about Paul Washer but I have disturbed my dog several times with loud "amens" on our morning walks!

If you are English in temperament don't be put off by the delivery. This is a man with a passion and a message that needs to be heard. His main thesis is that we ought not to be asking God for revival until we have done what He has already told us. That is a rather abrupt summary and he is not against praying for revival but his burden is that the 'church' and particularly evangelical preachers have been grossly unfaithful to the revelation of the scripture.

One thing that has really impressed me is his return to the theology of Penal Substitutionary Atonement. Finney is conspicuously absent from his quotations. So much that I have heard recently has come from the Finney position on Atonement that it is like a breath of fresh air to hear Penal Substitutionary Atonement preached with such conviction. You find that in indictment 3.

His 10 indictments are: (with timings - approximate)

1. a practical denial of the sufficiency of scripture (0:12:25)

2. an ignorance of God (0:19:10)

3. a failure to address man's malady (0:25:00)

4. an ignorance of the doctrine of regeneration (0:43:07)

5. an unbiblical gospel invitation (0:51:55)

6. ignorance regarding the nature of the church (1:07:07)

7. a lack of loving and compassionate church discipline (1:22:00)

8. a silence on separation (1:28:32)

9. psychology and sociology have replaced the scriptures with regard to the family (1:35:55)


You can download or listen to the message HERE

PS. I have listened to the whole message now. If you will excuse the manner of expressing this... you have to listen to this message.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Revival or reform?

One of the Old Testament 'revivals' which is often preached on is that of Josiah, but there are indications in Jeremiah that Jeremiah himself was not very impressed with that 'revival'. It seems that Jeremiah regarded it as superficial. The relationship between revival and reform is often a topic of enquiry. The usual question is one of 'chicken and egg'; does the reform produce the conditions for the revival, or does the revival create the conditions for the reform?

I heard the theme of the revival in Elijah's day being preached recently and was blessed and challenged and perplexed. The altar that Elijah rebuilt is called quite specifically 'the alter of Jehovah'. The question is usually 'why was it broken down?' but there is another question 'why was it ever there in the first place?' In the earliest part of Israel's occupation of their promised land there was a near massacre and civil war caused by the building of an altar by those who had settled in transjordan. The disaster was only averted when it was made plain that this was only to be a memorial altar and not a functioning one. Israel was only allowed to have one 'altar of Jehovah' and that was associated with the tabernacle later the temple. It was specifically against the commandment of God to have alternative altars and yet apparently there was one in the northern kingdom of Israel which had fallen into repair, was rebuilt by Elijah and which God honoured in consuming flame.

It is easily forgotten that for much of Israel's tenancy of the promised land the priesthood and hence the covenant was in a state of disfunction. The ark was separated from its cultic activity when it was lost in the battle with the Philistine. It was probably a full hundred years, if not more, before the full functions of the Levitical priesthood were restored. The day of Atonement required that blood be taken from the altar and sprinkled before the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. For a full century or more the ark was separated from the altar and so 'atonement' was never accomplished. Where does this leave the Israel who have breached their tenancy agreement and forfeited the presence of God because they are not conducting the annual Day of Atonement?

David was associated with a priest who wore the right clothes but apparently never functioned at the tabernacle. According to the Lord in Matthew's gospel, David penetrated the Holy Place and took the bread of the Presence, but the 'Presence' as symbolized by the ark was missing! David's sons are said to function as priests in 2 Sam 8:14 (Hebrew). How could this be when the priesthood was restricted to the tribe of Levi? Is revival God's way of breaking into the 'dysfunctional church' of today in a similar what to the way he broke into the dysfunctional Israel of old?

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Revival Conference Georgia, Oct 21-23 2008

This time last year I was over in Canton, Ohio at the Revival Conference inaugurated by Greg Gordon. It was a wonderful experience, not least because of the opportunity of meeting up with folks with whom I had only fellowshipped in Cyberland. The Revival Conference grew out of Greg Gordon's prayer for a heavenly visitation of God's holy love. Some folks I have known and chatted with for over 4 years but only saw them 'face to face' at Canton. It was a wonderful time and I was the receiver of some wonder American Christian hospitality. Several churches opened the pulpits and their hearts to me and I hold very sweet memories of the time.

I couldn't help but notice that we had almost as many definitions of revival as we had speakers and this continues to exercise my own heart. If there is a link between faith and expectation, as I am sure their is, just what kind of 'revival' are we expecting. The charismatic/pentecostal expectation of revival may well be very different from the second blessing holiness or classical Calvinist. Understanding our expectations is important as the difference between expectation and realization is usually what we might call 'disappointment' or at best 'perplexity'.

I sometimes say that I believe in 'revival' and pray for 'revival' but I have no theology of revival. What I mean by this is that there is nothing in the record of the New Testament which matches the great revivals of 1859 or the Welsh Revival of the early 1900's. Those were sovereign movements of God among Christians of different backgrounds but probably of a similar expectation. These 'classical' revivals have always been marked by a deep sense of God's presence and holiness and an accompanying sense of unworthiness and desperate need on the part of those who prayed. That said, the details of those times were sometimes marked by earnest prayer, or singing or convicting preaching; there is no one pattern. The one thing they do have in common is that there is no equivalent in the records of the New Testament.

Consequently most preaching 'for revival' finds its foundation in the Old Testament and particularly during the period of the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah. This was a period of some about 500 years and it marked by the presence of the 'prophets' Joel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and the like. They brought strong denunciations against the kings and priests of the day and called the people back to the heart conditions demanded at Sinai. The people for their part tended to depend upon the settled institutions of kings and priests and had to be made to see that 'blessing' and the conscious presence of God was not an automatic right of the covenant people. How do we understand the place of the New Covenant people in the light of these things and what do we expect God to do in answer to our prayers.

This year's Revival Conference in being held in Georgia in the USA and is live to anyone who is willing to tune in to the live 'stream' that are available. You will find that live 'feed' at Revival Conference, Georgia USA 21-23 October 2008. If you are able take some time to tune in and perhaps we can talk about it on the Discussion Forum? Can we take promises given to a Covenant Nation State and apply them to modern Nation States or to Christendom as we find it in the 21st century?

Friday, 17 October 2008

you shall love the Lord your God...with all your understanding...

Have you ever heard it said "as long as the heart is right the head doesn't matter?" Sometimes it is heard in Christian meetings and gets a firm "amen". One of the people, however, who would disagree with this would be Jesus Christ himself. When asked which was the greatest commandment he quoted from Deuteronomy and declared, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength..." (Mark 12) Apparently it is not enough to love God with "all my heart"; I am expected to love him with all my heart AND with all my soul, AND with all my mind, AND with all my strength. This has nothing to do with basic human intelligence. The university professor is required to love God with 100% of his human capacities, and so is the man who sweeps his front porch. This is not measuring one man's ability against another but insisting that every man (and every woman) gives all that is his (hers) to God. The man who sweeps the front porch may well be more successful in keeping this commandment than the man with the super-brain.

In Matthew's account of the parable of the soils judgment falls upon those who have heard but not 'understood'. Is this fair? Well, yes it is if the basis is percentage and not weight! In sheer brain power the professor may have 10 units of brain power but only give 5, the porch sweeper may only have 5 units but if he gives 5 he has fulfilled the commandment and the professor has failed. We are expected to engage our minds in understanding God's truth and those who refuse to do so fail to keep the commandment. We are not expected to be mere spectators in our encounter with the truth of God; we are expected to exert all our powers in understanding what he is saying to us.

This is one of the keys. This kind of understanding is based on 'revelation' and not information. God has many ways of bringing us into contact with the truth but that initiative must be his. However, when God has 'revealed' truth to us we must respond to that truth "...with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength." This is not necessarily a lonely exercise. The ancient people of God were instructed to "talk" about God's truth in their homes and in their journeys; understanding is often a team-game. What we cannot do is to say "oh, I don't understand these things I will leave them to the Bible students." We must 'consider' and 'reason' and 'ponder' the revealed truths of God and exert all our powers to understand what God is saying.

In the letter to the Colossians Paul refers to the 'full assurance of understanding'. It is as we 'consider' and 'understand' the implications of God's word to us that 'assurance' comes to its 'fulness'. "Great peace" said the psalmist "have those who love your law and nothing will cause them to stumble". Of course, this is not arrogant self-assertive brain power but it is using all that God has given me in the service of the 'revelation' that he has trusted to me. It is not breaking into the secrets of the book of Revelation by brute brain-power, but is the submission of all that I am to the revealed will of God. If our attitude to God is right we may use all our ransomed powers for his glory; in fact we must. Using our 'understanding' may be the way that God will redirect our steps. As the car bumper sticker has it; "if you haven't changed your mind recently, how do you know you still have one?"

Thursday, 16 October 2008

The Codex Sinaiticus Part 2

The fact is that although the CS is such a valuable manuscript experts note that it contains a very large number of copying errors and, as we have said, shows evidence of many scribes over many years. Michael Marlowe, in his excellent Bible Reseacher Website has commented... "The text of Sinaiticus (written in four columns to the page) contains an unusually high number of readings which have clearly arisen by transcriptional error, most of them by careless omissions." It has some notable omissions such as the loss of the last few verses of Mark's gospel. I have personally examined the copy in the British Library and the end of Mark's gospel has the last 8 verses missing but a space just exactly the right size for them to be inserted! See this image. Codex Sinaiticus - See The Manuscript | Mark |.jpg This seems to indicate that the CS was ever a 'work in progress'.

The CS was found in the St Catherine's Convent at the foot of Mount Sinai in a basket containing scrap papers to be used for kindling the convent's wood fires and rescued by Constans Tischendorf. Its very survival raises some interesting questions. Why did it survive when so many others were 'used until they fell apart'? Was it not used because those who held it had serious doubts about its accuracy? We might ask the same questions about another ancient codex; the Codex Vaticanus. This was found on a shelf in the Vatican and again had not been 'used until it fell apart'.

These two ancient codices were seen as the oldest and therefore the most accurate in the closing years of the 19th century. Consequently the many thousands of other manuscripts were not given their due weight but 'critical scholars' (the experts) have recently begun to give more weight to the testimony of the 'majority' of manuscripts. If you have a copy of the New King James Version you will sometimes find a note which says something like "NU omits..." it is telling you that experts who rely heavily on the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus do not have these words in their modern translations. This is a complex subject but one that we can discuss later in the New Covenant Discussion Forum.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Codex Sinaiticus Part 1

I read a BBC item the other day and thought this may disturb some folks. The article concluded with a throwaway line of how foolish it was to believe that God had inspired the Bible. So what is the Codex Sinaiticus, well for absolute beginners it is not a proprietory nasal spray but an ancient book; that's what the word Codex means. Many ancient documents were written on rollup scrolls made of vegitable matter known as papyrus; that's where we get our word paper from. More valuable documents were copied onto carefully prepared leaves of animal skins and folded into the shape of our modern books; these are called a Codex or the plural Codices. So the Codex Sinaiticus is a copy of most of the New Testement written in Greek Uncials (upper case letters). It is one of the oldest copies dating back to the 4th Century CE. There are older papyrus writings but not so complete at the Codex Sinaiticus. (from now on CS)

The experts can identify several different styles of 'handwriting' in the CS and these are sometimes called 'editors'. Often 'editors' were just re-inking fading letters so the fact that thereare several editors just means that they have been maintaining it not necessarily changing it. Often mistakes can occur in copying and technical experts called 'textual critics' have devised a probability theory for decided how some changes have occured. For example if a verse is repeated the scribe might have the first verse in his memory and when he copies the second verse he makes the mistake of repeating the first verse even thought it may have changed slightly. They have lots of rules which they have created. Some make more sense than others!

Although the CS is old and valuable we are not dependent on that manuscript alone in creating our modern translations. The experts gather these different copies into families and sometimes a clear scribal mistake passes through several generations of copies but is not in other manuscripts; by this comparing different 'families' of manuscripts the experts can be very confident that the original text can be reconstructed with a high degree of reliability. There are literally thousands of ancient extracts of copies of ancient Bible so we don't have 'all our eggs in one basket' called the CS. Some scholars are cautious in their dependence upon the CS becuase they are not convinced that it was a particulary accurate copy; it is just very old. Do you remember Chinese Whispers? Lets imagine 20 children gathered in a large circle and a message is whispered from one to the next. Suppose the CS is represented by child No 4. By that time the message may already have some errors in it and they will be passed on to child No 5 and No 6. But... suppose child No 7 breaks the rules and goes back to child No 2 for the message. Child No 6 may now have a more accurate message that Child No 4 even though Child No 4 is 'older'. Some manuscrips may not be as 'old' as the CS but they may go back to a more accurate original source; consequently 'age' is not the only factor in judging how valuable an ancient manuscript might be.

While it is true is that we don't have the 'original' of Galatians that was written by Paul (these are called the 'autographs') we do have thousands of other ancient copies and those thousands of copies make it possible to get a very reliable idea of what that original copy of Galatians looked like. Bible scholars have manuscripts of quantity and quality that historians would 'give their teeth for' if they existed for other ancient writings. I'll post more tomorrow but in the meantime if you want to add a comment here or join us at Biblebase Second Thought Discussions, please do. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thinking Aloud and Thinking Allowed

Sometimes thoughts just arrive. There is no way of predicting where or when or why. Sometimes they are provoked while meditating in the scriptures, sometimes by a news headline or sometimes in the midst of a meeting or a conversation. Was it Pooh Bear who said 'sometime I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits...'? I think for me the priority would need to be reversed...'sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just think...' Such 'thinking' while conscious of God's presence is what I usually mean by 'meditation'; not the mystical kind but just 'waiting before God' with the heart and mind not switched off but most definitely engaged.

Sometimes such thoughts are not worth 'a second thought' and sometimes they are. Sometimes I think 'I should share that with...' So from the little cottage industry that is my garden study there comes another 'blog'; this one to be given over to thoughts that have stirred me and which might stir others. Any thoughts which surface here will be open for discussion or, as I sometimes express it, 'destruction testing'. Such thinking is aloud and allowed. If you would like to hear such potential provocations or discuss them them why not sign up for this Biblebase Second Thoughts blog and come and discuss them at the New Covenant Discussion Forum or add a comment here?