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  • Kevin D. Johnson 9:52 am on May 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    On the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text 

    LXXThe Dead Sea Scrolls don’t prove that some books of the Hebrew Bible were still being edited/supplemented/reduced well past the writing of the New Testament. That’s an assertion and an unproven one provided by modern scholarship. We know from New Testament textual criticism that just because a text is older or agrees with other manuscripts–that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily the original readings. Ironically, what the Dead Sea Scrolls actually do overall is provide us with extreme confidence as to the nature of the Masoretic text and its reliability.

    The truth of the matter is that the Dead Sea Scrolls revealed very minor differences for the most part between the Masoretic text and some of the manuscripts provided by the Dead Sea Scrolls. Timothy Michael Law’s book on the Septuagint suffers from modern critical assumptions in approaching the text and his diagnosis is by no means certain.  Instead of Law’s book, I’d recommend getting your hands on the Jobes/Silva introduction to the Septuagint since it seems to avoid the sort of unnecessary speculation provided by Law in calling the Hebrew text of the Old Testament into question.

    However, if for the sake of argument we grant the highly speculative assumption made by Law and others that the Masoretic text is unreliable and that the Hebrew text continued to develop through the “Common Era” we have to be willing to admit that the situation is even worse–much worse–for the Septuagint.  This creates huge problems for those who want to retain dogmatic faith in the Septuagint as the “official” version of the Old Testament as we find in the Orthodox communions.  Wurthwein makes it quite clear that the Septuagint can’t really be used this way if we’re going to call the Masoretic text in doubt (66).

    Historically speaking, several versions of the Septuagint existed, revisions were made over its life even well after the New Testament was written, and this is so much more so given its history than what we could ever propose about the Hebrew Bible via the Dead Sea Scrolls. We’d also have to admit that not all copies of the Septuagint contained the same material nor can we really say that any book in its varied collection was considered Scripture by the church except those actually a part of what we now call the Old Testament. Just take a look at the section on the Septuagint in Wurthwein’s work noted above and you’ll see what I mean.

    The Additions to Esther

    As for Esther, Jerome was quite clear in providing evidence to us that the Greek versions–what we typically refer to as the Additions to Esther–didn’t reconcile with the existing Hebrew versions in his day. That’s part of the reason why they’re thrown in doubt and not really received by Protestants or Jews as a legitimate part of the original Esther that we find in the Masoretic text. Furthermore, as Law notes, at least two of the additions appear to be Greek originals and likely didn’t have a Hebrew version underlying their origin.

    So, while the Septuagint was a useful tool of the early church to provide Greek readers of the Bible access to the Hebrew Old Testament in advancing Christianity, claiming more than that for it is extremely problematic.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 10:11 am on May 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Church Covenants Are Reflective of the New Covenant 


    Historic Membership Vows

    I have to level at least some disagreement with this article by Wade Burleson on church covenants. I don’t see any reason to adopt one extreme in reaction to another–simply because some use church covenants to abuse others does not mean that they are inherently bad. A few things…

    1) Sig
    ning a church covenant does not automatically rule out the Spirit’s work or the influence of others in your life. Nor does it mean that the elders are the only authority in a church–think about it–a covenant is a voluntary engagement on the part of an individual or family to abide by legitimate authority (or at least it should be). That in and of itself should communicate that entering into an agreement means you have some level of power and protection as a member of the body. To assert that a covenant makes you powerless simply because you’ve given your permission in agreeing to it is groundless. What if the covenant contains proper hooks for the behavior and obligations of elders as well? Doesn’t this really depend on how a covenant is written?

    2) The assertion that a church covenant establishes a mediatorial role between God and the person signing is simply baseless. All Christians are priests of a sort and function in a healing or intermediary way–that fact doesn’t make the mediatorial role of Christ any less and simply recognizing legitimate authority in the church on the part of her ministers in writing doesn’t disturb that in the slightest.

    3) A church may believe that the church is equivalent to the kingdom of God but not all churches do nor do all church covenants contain such an equivocation. In fact, most church covenants I have read do not seem to confuse the matter.

    4) A church covenant is designed typically to help provide discipline for its members and to enable members to commit to the Christian way of life together. Abusive environments may use it to enforce authoritarian structures, but I venture to guess that most covenants are simply lining out what they think the Scriptures teach about elders, ecclesiastical authority, and faithfulness to the gospel in the life of a church. Are we really going to argue that there shouldn’t be any authority in churches and that such should never be reflected in any sort of written format? I think that’s a bit anarchic and extreme. Clearly, the Scriptures endorse some levels of authority in the churches.

    5) Matthew 5:37 does not forbid oaths or contracts (after all, no one I know has an issue with wedding vows!). Matthew 5:37 has a problem with disingenuous speech that invokes oaths when one isn’t certain they can keep the oath or may not really be interested in fulfilling their vow.

    Additionally, I also have to object to the notion that churches who disagree with Baptists about how to work out details between the church and the state are necessarily abusive. This contention by Wade is doubly ironic when he’s comparing 17th century Church of England proponents to Baptist elders in the 21st century. The matter is simply apples and oranges. Anglicans and Presbyterians who believe that the church should be involved with the state do so on principled grounds and not because they are engaging in ministerial abuse. It’s an inappropriate and anachronistic comparison.To me, however, the largest problem with Wade’s article is that it is very individualistic and seems to only speak to his rights or concern in the matter. But, the problem is that the church is a community of people united with a common purpose and creed. You can’t simply write off the fact that there are some basic things about being a Christian that one should follow.

    That said, I agree that some church covenants are bad and some elders in particular environments misuse them. But, again, in such a case it’s not really the covenant that is the problem but rather elders behaving badly. A lack of a covenant, too, won’t help with the real problem of elders that abuse the flock.  In fact, in some cases it may make the matter worse and harder to spot.

    When someone is baptized or joins a church via a profession of faith, they essentially are introduced into *the* New Covenant. That carries obligations as a disciple–and the covenants that people draw up today are emblematic of the reality of the matter in that regard. You simply can’t bypass the obligations of being a church member and Christian because you want to be free and independent. While I agree that the pendulum shouldn’t swing to overly authoritarian and abusive elders and covenants, we also can’t let it swing to the sort of anarchy and wackiness we have in place in many circles today where being a Christian is actually more like participating in moral therapeutic deism than it is obeying
    the commandments and following Jesus Christ with all that you are. These sorts of membership covenants are a reaction against that and in many cases, a legitimate reaction. Biblical wisdom is called for–not extremism.

    Last, we have to remember that church covenants aren’t new and they aren’t extreme.  Christians have been using membership vows in Reformed and other circles for hundreds of years.  They didn’t simply originate in reaction to today’s spiritual excesses on the part of the American church but reflect a long tradition of faithfulness among Christ’s disciples.

    • Melody 1:28 pm on May 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      “A church covenant is designed typically to help provide discipline for its members and to enable members to commit to the Christian way of life together.”

      No comment.

    • Stephanie Wheaton 2:14 pm on May 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I totally agree with Wade, NO church member has any type of authority over another church member. I don’t care if he/she is a Sr. Pastor or Elder. Church Members owe their allegiance to Jesus Christ alone. Jesus paid it all, and all to him we owe.

      • Kevin D. Johnson 4:17 pm on May 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        I’m sorry, but that’s simply incorrect. Hebrews 13:7 and Hebrews 13:17 tell us to imitate and obey our leaders and there are other important passages that either explicitly say or imply the same.

        • John Hutchinson 4:28 am on July 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply

          Peithesthe in both Biblical and other Greek sources properly translates to have confidence not obey; hypeikete translates as yield, not submit. When I yield the right of way to oncoming traffic, I am not coming under their submission. Those of us who are scrupulous can no longer trust the English translations, where self-serving deceit have pervaded.

    • Scott Shaver 2:26 pm on May 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      There is no “church” without the indewlling Holy Spirit.

      Do you actually think the Word of God and the Spirit of God indwelling believers will be subjected to or bound by man-made membership covenants consisting of more isogesis than exegesis? Laughable.

      Consequently, your disagreement (albeit well articulated) serves only to buttress both the logic and biblical basis of Burleson’s advice.

      • Kevin D. Johnson 4:25 pm on May 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Who said churches exist without the Holy Spirit? And, how does putting something in writing nullify His presence? I mean, the Bible is in writing and even clearly admonishes us to obey and even imitate our leaders.

        Furthermore, no one has any problem with marriage licenses and the vows required for marriage–made to obey another in sickness and in health in front of God and all present. We also don’t refuse to issue marriage licenses simply because some might divorce or commit spousal abuse. Why is the marriage vow okay but a church membership covenant isn’t? Last time I checked, there were no explicit man-made vows for marriage contained in Scripture.

        I share with Burleson the notion that abusive church environments should not be tolerated and that people should be able to leave them freely irrespective of whatever membership covenant that they may have signed if warranted. Adultery on either side of a marriage covenant–so to speak–makes the contract null and void. But, the abuse of something doesn’t make it bad especially when we can point to churches that have used covenants or vows for centuries without these sorts of potential issues of abuse.

        Last, a membership covenant may actually work to keep elders accountable as they should be both to God and His people. Only a fool would think these covenants are always one-sided–both sides carry obligations and if they can’t permanently fulfill them then there’s no reason to continue them.

        • Scott Shaver 4:33 pm on May 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply

          The very nature of your response implies an ecclesiological template that requires “church elders” to interpret both scripture and the modus operandai of conduct for the covenant signers under the ruse of “church discipline”.

          It’s a rather weak attempting at reinterpreting the spirit and intent of the written Word.

          Burleson’s point about not signing such extra-biblical garbage remains highly valid IMO.

          • Scott Shaver 4:37 pm on May 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply

            Not to mention it promotes an emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit being supplemented (if not supplanted entirely) by the rules, interpretations and documents of men……..I would assume some very young men at that.

            • Kevin D. Johnson 4:44 pm on May 27, 2015 Permalink

              The Holy Spirit’s work isn’t supplemented (or supplanted) here. The Holy Spirit has been working through humanity and its institutions since the beginning and divinely guides the church as a whole. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit has directed us through our Lord and through Scripture (Matt. 23:3a; Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:17) to follow our leaders to the extent that they are biblical in faith and practice. Assisting people in that regard through covenants is simply good pastoral practice. And, even if you disagree, you still have to admit that large segments of the church of Jesus Christ very much disagree with you regardless as to what a small minority of abusive churches in the USA might be doing.

            • Kevin D. Johnson 4:47 pm on May 27, 2015 Permalink

              I think it’s funny that a church covenant will be seen as an addition and a “supplement” to the work of the Holy Spirit…but, the Cooperative Program for the SBC–that’s God working personally from on high. Yeah. OK. Last time I checked, the Cooperative Program isn’t in the Scriptures any more than membership covenants are.

          • Kevin D. Johnson 4:39 pm on May 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply

            No, a church covenant does not require elders to interpret Scripture or conduct on their own prejudicial basis. You’ve assumed that of my view but hardly established it.

    • Greg Logan 12:16 am on May 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I have not read either article – but I do appreciate the “counter-point” effort just to provide more light on a not unimportant subject.

      Regardless of any of the above, is there not at least some kind of “list” mentioned in Acts – around say Ch 7 for serving the widows. I am pulling this strictly out of memory – but it does indicate some formal recognition of involvement.

      Despite that, I personally find covenants anathema and have never and will never signed one unless, of course, Jesus tells me to…. (not necessarily impossible since I even ended up in a Pentecostal Fundamentalist church for some years…:-) ).

    • Karen 6:11 pm on June 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I find no solid teachings requiring the assembly of Jesus Christ to sign a covenant or contract piece of paper binding the individual to a particular denomination. God’s Word is our final authority, not fallible man.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 10:13 am on April 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Tendencies In Christian Exegetical Scholarship 

    I’m saddened, really, that an otherwise exceptional scholar will make statements like this:

    Conversely, while the New Testament emphatically declares that God is angry at human sin and that Jesus’ death saves us from God’s wrath, in passages such as John 3:36; Romans 1:18; 2:5–6; 5:9; and Revelation 6:16–17, it does not link this with the idea of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice.

    The chief cause of this is the tendency in Christian exegetical scholarship to unlink contexts as if something like Romans 5:9 could be said without reference to Galatians 3:13, Numbers 16, or a score of other passages. Parceling out the Scriptures in separate distinct units without reference to the entirety of Scripture’s commentary on the matter is a great postmodern way to deny the gospel–and that’s exactly what’s happening here.

    But, the main point of this article is equally wrong. Of course, sacrifice in the OT (e.g. 2 Sam 24:25) and on the cross is linked to appeasing God’s wrath. But, look at Goldingay’s statement above–it remains self-refuting. If Jesus’ death was a sacrifice and Jesus’ death saves us from God’s wrath, then the nature of the sacrifice was such that it saves us from God’s wrath just by the plain logic of the matter.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 2:48 pm on March 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    I Second the Motion 

    There are a lot of websites out there that deal in moving Christians from one communion to another.  We used to call that proselytizing but today many term it differently to avoid the negative connotation such a term undoubtedly retains.  Many times, this sort of activity is done with the guise that what’s really being offered is fresh dialog and conversation between differing Christian parties toward mutual understanding. But, these sites aren’t really interested in mutual understanding. Rather, they’re interested in making converts for their communion out of people who are already Christian.

    In that vein, one such site is called Orthodox Bridge where the author and several others purportedly want to offer “a better understanding of Orthodoxy” in order for people to make the move from Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy.

    Of course, these sites follow a familiar pattern and Orthodox Bridge is no exception.  First, they are typically authored by folks who claim to have studied all sides of a debate and now have a better and more informed opinion than they did in the past.  Whether that’s actually true or not, we don’t really know since it seems that many of the former beliefs they carried and talk about don’t always seem to match up to confessional Reformed orthodoxy or even a fair assessment of evangelical religion.  Second, these sites also put up posts that put forward a Protestant, Reformed, or evangelical opinion and then proceed to knock it down with their own particular ecclesial point of view.  Then, all you ever find on the site are posts like this that continue ad infinitum  with the same strategy. Here’s the Protestant view on this issue, they say, now let’s look at the truth of Eastern Orthodoxy.  And, on it goes.

    What these sites and their lengthy posts often fail to do, however, is get anywhere beyond the sort of straw man that makes one opinion look horrible and its alternative–their version of the gospel truth of the matter–look strong and clean.  Yet, what are they really opposing?

    Realdialektik makes it quite clear–these critics are busy criticizing something but typically stay away from the best and the brightest representatives that the Protestant tradition provides for us with only a few exceptions.  In other words, these sort of sites aren’t really dealing so much with the classical Protestant tradition as they are the bogeyman of their own failed appropriation of it prior to making the jump across to Eastern Orthodoxy.  And, that’s what makes them dangerous.  Welcome to the plague of convertitis where your belief of whatever you knew before your “conversion” to XYZ group just doesn’t measure up to what you now consider the truth of the matter.

    So, I second Realdialektik’s challenge to the guys over at Orthodox Bridge.  Get your facts straight.  Deal with the best and brightest of Protestantism and quit cherry-picking your material just to make Orthodoxy look good.  If you do that, maybe then we can have a real conversation about the theology and history of the Church.  Until then, readers should know that the content they provide simply isn’t convincing to people who are aware of the fuller evangelical/Protestant commentary on the relevant issues.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 1:29 pm on March 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    The Failure of Richard Dawkins and His Book, The God Delusion 

    I continue my read of The God Delusion by Richad Dawkins.  His arguments continue to malign religion and don’t really deal in full with the various religious traditions he abruptly criticizes. His arguments are so poor that even fellow atheist philosophers now call him an amateur as the New York Times noted some time ago. Instead of laying this out in full for you on my part, I’ll link to a few posts where you can read more if you are interested. This first link is by Thomas Nagel, the next by Allen Orr, and finally one by Alvin Plantinga. The first two are atheists and the third, a Christian–all well respected in their fields of inquiry.

    Some choice quotes, first Nagel, then Orr, then Plantinga:

    In a previous chapter, Dawkins dismisses, with contemptuous flippancy the traditional a priori arguments for the existence of God offered by Aquinas and Anselm. I found these attempts at philosophy, along with those in a later chapter on religion and ethics, particularly weak; Dawkins seems to have felt obliged to include them for the sake of completeness. But his real concern is with the argument from design, because there the conflict between religious belief and atheism takes the form of a scientific disagreement–a disagreement over the most plausible explanation of the observable evidence. He argues that contemporary science gives us decisive reason to reject the argument from design, and to regard the existence of God as overwhelmingly improbable.

    Orr writes:

    Despite my admiration for much of Dawkins’s work, I’m afraid that I’m among those scientists who must part company with him here. Indeed, The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labeled Dawkins a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur. I don’t pretend to know whether there’s more to the world than meets the eye and, for all I know, Dawkins’s general conclusion is right. But his book makes a far from convincing case.

    Orr continues:

    The most disappointing feature of The God Delusion is Dawkins’s failure to engage religious thought in any serious way. This is, obviously, an odd thing to say about a book-length investigation into God. But the problem reflects Dawkins’s cavalier attitude about the quality of religious thinking. Dawkins tends to dismiss simple expressions of belief as base superstition. Having no patience with the faith of fundamentalists, he also tends to dismiss more sophisticated expressions of belief as sophistry (he cannot, for instance, tolerate the meticulous reasoning of theologians). But if simple religion is barbaric (and thus unworthy of serious thought) and sophisticated religion is logic-chopping (and thus equally unworthy of serious thought), the ineluctable conclusion is that all religion is unworthy of serious thought.

    The result is The God Delusion, a book that never squarely faces its opponents. You will find no serious examination of Christian or Jewish theology in Dawkins’s book (does he know Augustine rejected biblical literalism in the early fifth century?), no attempt to follow philosophical debates about the nature of religious propositions (are they like ordinary claims about everyday matters?), no effort to appreciate the complex history of interaction between the Church and science (does he know the Church had an important part in the rise of non-Aristotelian science?), and no attempt to understand even the simplest of religious attitudes (does Dawkins really believe, as he says, that Christians should be thrilled to learn they’re terminally ill?).

    Orr adds one more criticism in this section:

    The vacuum created by Dawkins’s failure to engage religious thought must be filled by something, and in The God Delusion, it gets filled by extraneous quotation, letters from correspondents, and, most of all, anecdote after anecdote. Dawkins’s discussion of religion’s power to console, for example, is interrupted by the story of the Abbott of Ampleforth’s joy at learning of a friend’s impending death; speculation about why countries, such as the Netherlands, that allow euthanasia are so rare (presumably because of religious prejudice); a nurse who told Dawkins that believers fear death more than nonbelievers do; and the number of days of remission from Purgatory that Pope Pius X allowed cardinals and bishops (two hundred, and fifty, respectively). All this and more in four pages. Gone, it seems, is the Dawkins of The Selfish Gene, a writer who could lead readers through dauntingly difficult arguments and who used anecdotes to illustrate those arguments, not to substitute for them.

    Last, Orr sets hammer to nail:

    The most important example involves Dawkins’s discussion of philosophical arguments for the existence of God as opposed to his own argument against God, which he presents as the intellectual heart of his book. Considering arguments for God, Dawkins is careful to recite the many standard objections to them and writes that the traditional proofs are “vacuous,” “dubious,” “infantile,” and “perniciously misleading.” But turning to his own Ultimate Boeing 747 argument against God, Dawkins is suddenly uninterested in criticism and writes that his argument is “unanswerable.” So why, you might wonder, is a clever philosophical argument for God subject to withering criticism while one against God gets a free pass and is deemed devastating?

    The reason seems clear. The first argument leads to a conclusion Dawkins despises, while the second leads to one he loves. Dawkins, so far as I can tell, is unconcerned that the central argument of his book bears more than a passing resemblance to those clever philosophical proofs for the existence of God that he dismisses.

    To round this off, Plantinga offers the following in his conclusion:

    The real problem here, obviously, is Dawkins’ naturalism, his belief that there is no such person as God or anyone like God. That is because naturalism implies that evolution is unguided. So a broader conclusion is that one can’t rationally accept both naturalism and evolution; naturalism, therefore, is in conflict with a premier doctrine of contemporary science. People like Dawkins hold that there is a conflict between science and religion because they think there is a conflict between evolution and theism; the truth of the matter, however, is that the conflict is between science and naturalism, not between science and belief in God.

    The God Delusion is full of bluster and bombast, but it really doesn’t give even the slightest reason for thinking belief in God mistaken, let alone a “delusion.”

    The naturalism that Dawkins embraces, furthermore, in addition to its intrinsic unloveliness and its dispiriting conclusions about human beings and their place in the universe, is in deep self-referential trouble. There is no reason to believe it; and there is excellent reason to reject it.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 3:06 pm on February 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Some Thoughts by Turretin to Consider Regarding Theonomy 

    TurretinAs a result of the recent theonomy debate that’s had at least one small corner or two the Reformed blogosphere buzzing of late, I’d like to put up a couple of quotes by Turretin and just point readers to a more extended treatment of the question of the Mosaic civil law and its applicability or not to our own times or that of the future.  Turretin strikes a balance that it seems we didn’t really see on either side of the debate in question.

    Another clear miss from the theonomic side is of course omission of the existence and purpose of natural law in reviewing these things from a biblical perspective.  Most of the argumentation in the debate itself, regrettably, did not focus on the Scriptures but tended toward other subjects such as the “general equity” clause found in Chapter 19 of the Westminster Confession of Faith or a review of select quotes from contemporary theonomic authors like Bahnsen or Rushdoony.  I wrote an earlier post on the “general equity” clause some time ago.  I had no idea it would come up in the debate so I’ve linked it here as well.

    But, back to Turretin.  Turretin provides a more refined and careful view than we saw in the debate and says that the judicial law of Israel was never meant to be permanent in the way some have said.  In fact, Turretin even said that there were times that Roman law was preferred to the Mosaic law. Turretin was one of Calvin’s successors in Geneva and his Institutes were used by Princeton Seminary prior to the twentieth century.  In other words, we can reasonably see Turretin representing standard Reformed fare on these questions.

    Witness Turretin:

    Although the best and wisest laws (as far as the state of that people was concerned) were sanctioned by God, it does not follow that on this account they ought to be perpetual. God, from positive and free right, could give them for a certain time and for certain reasons, to some one nation, which would not have force with respect to others. What is good for one is not not immediately so for another.

    What is better than others in every way (in both the abstract and the concrete and both negatively and affirmatively) is to be preferred to the others. But the forensic law is better than other laws, not affirmatively, but negatively because it was determined to certain circumstances which do not now exist. Then again it is better than human laws (simply as human), but not inasmuch as they are founded upon the natural law, whose source is God. Therefore, when the Roman laws are preferred to the Mosaic, they are not preferred simply as enacted by men, but as derived from natural and common right they can be more suitable to places, times, and persons. (Turretin,, p. 167)

    Furthermore, Turretin makes plain the following on the previous page:

    There are three opinions about [the abrogation of the judicial law]: the first in defect (of the Anabaptists and Antinomians, who think it is absolutely and simply abrogated as to all things). On this account, whatever reasons are drawn against them from the Old Testament for the right of the magistrate and of war; for the division of inheritances and the like, they are accustomed to resolve with this one answer–that these are judicial and pertain to the Israelite people and the Old Testament, but are now abrogated under the New. The second, in excess, of those who think that law is still in force and should be retained and that Christian states are to be governed like the Jewish (which was the opinion of Carlstadt and Castellio, with whom the Lutheran Brochman agrees). Both wander from the truth. The former because thus many moral things would be abrogated which are contained in the forensic law. The latter because thus many typical things would have to be observed which are most foreign to the reason of our times. The third, of the orthodox, who, holding a middle ground, relieve the matter by a distinction, both according to what has been abrogated and according to what is still in force.

    Turretin goes on to say that the judicial laws that remain are those that have common affinity with natural law found in other societies. Those that have no such continuity in Turretin’s eyes were seen as temporary. He even specifies that the punishments involved  for any civil laws that might remain are not the same as those prescribed originally in the Mosaic code and that the basis for such punishment is actually natural law (211.26.4).

    At base, if you read earlier in the volume (11.1.1-3), you’ll find that what Turretin sees as utmost and eternally abiding is the moral law reflected in both a natural law common to all men and the Mosaic law made only for the particular nation of Israel during the Old Covenant.  Both natural law and the old Mosaic law are now informed by the nature and intent of the New Covenant and its now universal administration.  The substance of what was particular in terms of redemption (the people of God known as Israel) now becomes universal in Jesus Christ.  The Old Covenant administration, therefore, was never meant to be permanent.  Because of this divine strategy of redemption, we can’t immediately assume that because God established a particular law in one era that it remains until otherwise revoked.  This seems to be quite different than what many contemporary advocates of theonomy seem to be advocating when it comes to the applicability of the Mosaic civil code.

    • ChristusEstVeritas 5:06 pm on April 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      This is fantastic, stole the first quote for a FB post. If the distinction were truly between God’s law and man’s law, I don’t think the Reformed would be indecisive. But if something is validly founded on natural law, it is just as surely from God as is the Mosaic civil code.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 9:42 am on February 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    On the Apocrypha 

    I happened upon a postLXX defending the inspired nature of the Apocrypha this morning by Timothy Matkin, an Anglican priest.  The post contained a number of inaccuracies, so I responded on a friend’s FB feed.  Here’s that response with a few extra details and links.

    The author’s information on the Septuagint (LXX) is not exactly accurate and is somewhat outdated. There is some evidence that the Septuagint was not quite the static set of books people pretend and modern research is bearing out more in that light (see Jobes/Silva’s book here, as well as Law’s). The LXX was more like a convenient biblical currency of sorts used by the Jews and the early church to enable Greek speakers access to the Old Testament and other important documents but it is doubtful that it had a static form sufficient to consider its contents inspired simply because a manuscript was a part of the collection. We have different copies of the Septuagint and it’s very difficult to prove the exact nature of the Septuagint as used by the church originally (except what gets quoted in the NT) and even more difficult to prove that all such manuscripts in the collection were seen as inspired.

    There’s a hidden assumption here in treating the LXX the way Matkin does and it’s a bit like inferring that Paul and his mention of “books, and above all the parchments” in 2 Timothy 4:13 meant that he only wanted Scripture passed to him rather than including other important works he might refer to in his studies and preaching.  In truth, we don’t know which works Paul required.  To infer Paul meant include only Scripture in the parchments is an assumption and perhaps a dubious one given that we know Paul quoted from other works in the NT (even pagan ones, cf. Acts 17:28) and the terms for books and parchments could mean anything from a book of the Old Testament to a notebook that Paul used to record his thoughts (cf. Towner, NICNT, pp. 629-630).  Furthermore, when Paul is talking about the Scriptures he generally uses other technical terms (1 Tim. 5:18).

    When it comes to the Septuagint, the same sort of assumption has historically been a part of how some scholars have looked at the Septuagint until more critical studies came along like the ones offered by Jobes/Silva and Law (linked above).  We have to remember that the use of a set of books–really manuscripts or parchments–isn’t quite the same historically as it would be for us today.  So, we can’t look at the LXX and infer that any book in the collection was Scripture simply because it was included with the other books.

    But, there are more problems with this post than a dated understanding of the Septuagint.

    The Jews never “decided” that the Masoretic text had a canon and haven’t approached the Scriptures the way Christians later did in recognizing one. There’s no evidence post-70AD that rabbis codified any sort of canon by council or other means.  It simply wasn’t necessary.

    Why wasn’t it necessary?  Because, there was already a recognition among God’s people that these books were the word of God regardless as to any issues about a formal canon per se. As a result, there is no evidence the Jewish community as a whole ever held the apocryphal books as Scripture. Jesus wasn’t referring to a canon if by that we mean a rule the Jewish community consciously put in place to determine the contents of the Old Testament.  Such a contention would be anachronistic; however, from his statement in Matthew 23 Jesus was most certainly referring to the historical contents of the Tanakh as he did in other statements in the gospels.  The dispute about which Zechariah that Matkins mentions is irrelevant once we take all of Jesus’ statements about the Tanakh together in the gospels.  Clearly, Jesus saw the Tanakh as Scripture and this division of the OT was always the 39 books of the OT in Jewish studies and never included the Apocrypha.

    Jesus didn’t endorse a formal canon but he definitely endorsed the threefold division of the Tanakh that later became the Old Testament for Protestants and much of the early church.  So, when Protestants cite Jesus in defending the Protestant canon of the Old Testament, they speak in shorthand and it’s an entirely valid point to make.

    Additionally, it’s quite clear that the English Church via the 39 Articles never saw the Apocrypha as Scripture since they were ratified.  It’s always curious when an Anglican writes something like this and neglects to mention the doctrinal standard of his church as it has been received for some 500 years.

    Last, the Councils were not always united on the question of the Apocrypha and differences existed historically between East and West as to which books should be included. The West’s appraisal of the Apocrypha has not always been consistent in the Councils. Rome herself didn’t really define the canon–as Rome–officially until Trent.  So, it’s not exactly true to say the Councils have unanimously endorsed the Apocrypha without any sort of qualification as to the actual history of the matter.

    The Reformers were on very good grounds to doubt the canonical status of the Apocrypha and did so for additional reasons as well that the post does not even mention (such as problems with its inherent theology and its inconsistencies).

  • Kevin D. Johnson 10:09 am on January 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Dawkins – Too Smart to Avoid the Charge 

    I’ve read two more chapters of Dawkins‘ The God Delusion. The classical arguments of God that go back to at least Aristotle are dismissed with the wave of a hand. Dawkins balked earlier at the three in one nature of the Trinity as incomprehensible but then goes on to call the first three arguments of Aquinas the same argument. You have to love little ironies like that. Never mind the details, he might say, these arguments aren’t even worth refuting. Honestly, I’m not a fan of those arguments either but he’d be a lot more convincing if he’d actually take the time to treat the arguments fairly.

    He also does little things like talk about how someone like Kant objected to the ontological argument but neglects to mention Kant had his own arguments for God that he simply fails to deal with in any sense.  In addition, while Kant and others may have rejected Anselm’s argument many other philosophers have either used or improved it.  Does Dawkins mention this in the slightest or deal with such improvements?  No. The man is too smart to avoid a charge of intellectual dishonesty here.

    Dawkins really only deals with the arguments that he wants to deal with in regards to God and his existence. There are many more left untreated while he’s busy pointing out some of the most foolish from web pages on the Internet. For example, the transcendental arguments for God were never even mentioned. The complaints against Anselm’s ontological argument forget that Anselm wasn’t attempting to prove the existence of God to unbelievers. Rather, Anselm through prayer was doing as Augustine said, believing in order to understand. In short, Anselm’s argument is one that presupposes and understands life in a way consistent with a belief in God.

    The most dastardly technique of Dawkins, however, is the pretension that he’s only interested in disproving a general God hypothesis. There’s nothing like setting up a straw man and knocking it down. This strategy leaves him free to rail against the notion of “God” but not deal with the heavier and fuller claims of biblical Christianity. So, instead, he takes potshots at Christianity as he goes but doesn’t obligate himself to deal with the matter fully or as he should. This likely remains convincing for people who only have a very limited understanding of the Christian faith, but is readily apparent as the shell game it is for more informed readers.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 9:56 am on January 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Dawkins and The God Delusion – A Running Review 

    So, I’m through chapter two of Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion.  I’ve been commenting on the book as I read through it on a Facebook group, so I thought I’d also leave the same thoughts here.

    I have to say so far that I’m summarily disappointed. And, it’s not because I disagree with practically everything he says. I get it. He’s an atheist and a fairly educated one. But, the more I read the more I see intellectual dishonesty. Dawkins isn’t dealing with the Christian God or the Bible and the only people that will take him seriously on such points are those who are utterly ignorant of what the Christian faith actually maintains and teaches.

    Dawkins is simply dealing in caricatures. For example, the notion that no one can understand fourth century Trinitarian debates and the terms involved is simply false. Dawkins does a great job vilifying what he considers the God of the Old Testament while failing to share with his readers that what he’s really repeating are the tenets of an ancient heresy that never had any traction with Christian orthodoxy in the first place.

    I will keep reading because he still has yet to get to any of the main demonstrations of his argument(s) and I’m holding out hope that there’s something of substance in this book sufficient to lay a real challenge down. So far, not so much.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 1:05 am on January 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    On the Relevance of God’s Law to Today 

    TurretinOne of the reasons I appreciate the Reformed faith above others has to do with the idea of balance.  The answer to most every question is usually a “yes” and a “no.”   The relevance of the Mosaic law today is not an EITHER/OR issue as if we must recognize the law as valid without reference to the context in which it was written.  I was asked about whether I agreed or not with R.C. Sproul, Jr’s post commenting on theonomy and reconstructionism.  So, here are some of my thoughts after reading his post and mixing it up with certain reconstructionists on Facebook in recent weeks.

    Simply put, what remains authoritative for us and what has always been authoritative is the moral law as we have received it in nature and through the Scriptures.  In fact, seen through the proper lens, natural law is actually identical to the moral law we have in the Scriptures because both came from God.  Natural law, however, suffers from the fact that it has been implemented by fallen man and only relatively represents the perfect moral law of God.  But, overall, the relevance of God’s moral law has been seen in different ways in differing covenant administrations as we have them in Scripture.  Similarly, the notion that the Mosaic judicial law has permanent and abiding authority without any sort of qualification over the nations either today or in the future is simply not given to us in the pages of Scripture.  Such a fact is not meant to denigrate or downplay the importance of the Mosaic covenant administration but rather helps to establish a more important principle.

    The real authority at work here is the moral law of God as it exists through who he is and what it is he has decreed.  This means that God has put in place a law that is both reflective of his character and subject to the conditions he positively placed upon it, particularly in the Scriptures.  We know from the Scriptures that the law given to the Israelites through Moses was limited in nature and function.  We also know that it continues to serve as a moral bellwether for much of the rest of Scripture.

    However, the law was never anything apart from Christ and so we must understand it with the whole of Scripture in mind–and really, with Christ and his work in the forefront.  The Sermon on the Mount can’t be understood without reference to the Torah and yet Jesus makes clear that even the Torah is limited compared to the legislative authority he personally carries as the incarnate Son.  The lawgiver, not the law, is the paramount authority in place here.  In essence, we can’t speak of morality and justice without first speaking of the good news of Jesus Christ and the salvation he brought us.

    This is where the notion of “general equity” comes in.  Chapter 19 of the Westminster Confession of Faith doesn’t say that such an equity is only for today and not for tomorrow nor does it appear that the Confession saw a temporary abrogation of the judicial law of the Torah only to go back to it later once Christ’s Kingdom was in full effect.

    The point of Chapter 19 in Paragraph 5 is that the moral law of God binds everyone and is authoritative over all–this remains true and has always been the case regardless of the covenant administration in which mankind lived. In reality, this is a stronger defense of the entirety of God’s moral law than the notion that we must have the judicial laws of the Torah in exacting and wooden detail as the reigning ideal guide for society as some reconstructionists might propose.  If the judicial laws of Israel were the standard for all times, how could Jesus have said “You have heard it said…but I say to you”?

    The judicial law is still authoritative in one sense but remains relative to the actual moral principles of the gospel behind them.  And, it’s the moral principles that we are really after anyway.  We simply can’t reproduce the sort of ancient agricultural environment in our own day to literally fulfill the law’s demands like helping your neighbor’s animal out of the ditch or allow gleaning laws when most all of us do no farming at all.  But, the moral principles behind the laws remain ultimate and can still be used profitably.

    We see a similar hermeneutic at work with the Apostle Paul.  In 1 Corinthians 5:13, Paul tells the church to ‘purge the evil’ (ESV) out of their community invoking the common refrain for capital punishment in Deuteronomy.  Yet, the death sentence Paul has in mind is something other than the literal rendering of the statement in the Torah even though the synagogue was a place where justice was decreed locally.  This is especially true when we have examples in the NT where the local Jewish community did not hesitate to pick up stones and try to kill people whether the Empire allowed it or not.

    Here for Paul, “purge” means expel from the community and not expire.  We need to take a long hard look at why that’s the case.  We can of course pretend that Christians didn’t have the right under the Roman Empire to exercise capital punishment otherwise he would have called for it, but such a supposition if true only demonstrates that the Torah’s original judgement is now completely unworkable in the face of a new universal setting for the faithful.

    Paul also has the Corinthians look at oxen in 1 Cor. 9:9 and we learn that the moral principle behind the command is the important thing “for our sake.”  In fact, Paul denies that the command was even really written for oxen as far as it pertains to us and instead endorses a different understanding that seemingly has nothing to do with the original context of the passage.

    Last, look at 2 Cor. 13:1 where Paul invokes himself as a witness three times sufficient to call Deut. 19:15 as proof that the Corinthians had better repent.  Originally, the law clearly requires two or three different people as witnesses yet here Paul calls himself a witness three times.  This also has echoes of Matthew 18:15-18 in it (also an example of three scenarios as witnesses rather than just two or three witnesses)–apparently for Paul it is enough that the truth be said three times rather than having two or three actual or different witnesses.  Paul again becomes innovative with the Torah in putting forward the moral essence of the law rather than valuing a literal obedience when it simply isn’t called for in the specific New Covenant situation.

    So, I say all that to say this — God’s judicial law for Israel was perfect for Israel but was never meant to work for all nations, for all time, or for the end of time.  That does not mean, however, that it was unjust or that we cannot use it to help us understand and guide the church and society in better implementing God’s moral law.  The judicial laws inform our opinion and are relevant when their use is in line with the full import of God’s moral law.  But, the moral law of God found both in nature and in Scripture is what God has placed as the universal standard by which we all are to live.  This is so much the case that even Turretin said there were times that the natural laws exhibited by the Roman empire were preferable to the judicial law of the Torah (v. 2, 11.26.10).  To me, this spiritual understanding of the import of God’s moral law is much more true to that which God ordained from the beginning–to glorify him and enjoy him forever.

    It is also fair to make a further claim here — what I’ve just outlined is generally the received opinion of Reformed orthodoxy found in sources like Calvin, Turretin, the Reformed confessions (such as WCF 19), and elsewhere.  I realize there is some divergence and appropriate disagreement regarding the exact rendering of the importance of the law in Reformed circles today but overall what I’ve outlined remains true to the historical identity of what it means to be Reformed.

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