Some Thoughts on Thanksgiving

The week of Thanksgiving is coming up. I do not intend to engage the argument here about whether Thanksgiving services should be held. Rather i wish to engage the question of the biblical concept of thanksgiving.

Adam and Eve’s fall into sin can be seen in the light of this question. Instead of being thankful for what God had given to them, they became discontent with what they had, and desired to rule over their own lives. They believed that they knew what was good for them better than God did. Instead of being thankful that they could eat of all the tree of the garden except from one tree, they believed Satan’s lie that God was somehow keeping something from them.

The history of idolatry in the times of Old Testament Israel has this same aspect to it. Instead of being grateful to God for the peace and prosperity that God had given them in the promised land, they hankered after something more. Ironically, that something more wound up always being something less, for how could anyone have something more than God?

What humanity needed was a new heart full of gratitude. So the gospel itself comes into view as God’s solution to the problem of ingratitude. And when God changes a person’s heart, the ingratitude and dissatisfaction becomes gratitude and satisfaction, as God’s infinite goodness to sinners becomes so clearly evident. The gospel, in this way, is all about thanksgiving. That is, the gospel always produces thanksgiving (among many other things).


The Rift Between Exegesis and Systematic Theology

Some exegetes believe that systematic theology (ST) has no place in exegesis. There are various reasons why people might believe this. Some might believe that ST would artificially narrow down the valid exegetical possibilities (horror of horrors!). Others believe that because ST is not their specialty, that therefore they cannot venture in to that field when they are doing their exegesis. Still others believe that exegesis is for the academy, while ST is for the church (and never should the two meet!). I will answer these objections one at a time.

To the first objection, I would answer that ST never narrows down the number of valid exegetical possibilities. One must define “valid exegetical possibilities.” For some exegetes, this would mean (in line with reader-response criticism) that they can understand the text to mean whatever they want the text to mean. So, when one comes to the text in Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man that He should lie,” a valid exegetical possibility for the reader-response critic might even be “God is just like a human, and is quite capable of lying; in fact, He often does.” What exegetes fail to realize in this regard is that we already have a ST grid of our own that narrows down interpretive options. So, the question is not whether we will have an interpretive grid, but which grid we have. The people who claim not to have a grid are the ones with the most fiercely narrowing grids of all. The reason for that is that they are not even aware of their own grids. And it is the invisible grids that are the most pernicious.

This also answers the bit about ST not being someone’s field. If one is a theologian, then ST is part of what we do. Period. Just because an exegete might not have read all the ST’s ever written in history does not mean that he is exempt from engaging the aspects of theology that fall under the rubrics of ST. ST is not just for the specialist. We all do it anyway. The question is whether we will be honest and upfront about doing it, or whether we will pretend that we are not doing it, when we really are.

Thirdly, exegesis is, most obviously, not just for the academy. Actually, most exegetes recognize this. Some merely think that their own exegesis is for the academy, and not for the church. The gulf between academy and church is particularly huge and disturbing. One expects the gulf with unbelieving scholarship. However, even some exegetes who believe in Christ as Lord and Savior also posit a huge gulf between academy and church, thus refusing to love what Christ has loved. I do not understand how believing scholars can do their work for the academy and not for the church, unless they are motivated by the fear of man, and the idol of prestige and honor among men.

Was Jesus Able to Sin?

This is a thorny question that has received more than one answer in history. Some Reformed authors like Sproul and Hodge have argued that Christ was not truly human if He was not subject to the possibility of falling into sin. Others have said that the unity of the God-man implies that the divine nature would have prevented the human nature from falling into sin. Both sides would agree that Jesus did not, in fact, sin. The question is whether it was possible or not.

I would argue that it was not possible for Christ to sin. However, this must be argued carefully. I would argue from the analogy of Christ’s sin-bearing that it was not possible for Christ to sin. How could Christ, as the God-man, bear the infinite weight of the punishment for sins? A mere human could not do so. Ursinus, in his commentary on the Heidelberg, argues that it is the divine nature which sustains the human nature in the sin-bearing. I would argue that Christ’s divine nature does the same with regard to withstanding temptation. Some versions of the position I hold wind up endangering the distinctiveness of Christ’s human nature. If we use the concept of sustaining, then we do not run the risk of attributing divine attributes to the human nature. This would be a more Lutheran communication of attributes that we should avoid. We can attribute characteristics of either nature to the person, but not human attributes to the divine, or vice versa.

Another way to get at the problem is to ask what kind of impossibility of sin are we positing? The impossibility I argue for is an impossibility of character. Not only was Christ’s human nature in the state of innocence, but also the divine nature sustained him in the temptations so that He would not fall into sin. This in no way minimizes the ferocity of the temptations directed Jesus’ way. Satan threw everything he had at Jesus. It is because Jesus resisted to the very last, to the very utmost heights of temptation, that he can be our Savior.

Did God’s Essence Become Incarnate?

One of the most difficult questions in Trinitarian theology is how the essence/person distinction relates to the Incarnation. The classic formulations state that God is in essence one, and that one essence is shared fully and completely in the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The essence of God must be involved somehow in the Incarnation, but finding a way of expressing that is difficult. On the one hand, it is vitally important not to drive a wedge between the essence of God and the three persons. Otherwise, we wind up with the classic problem of a quaternity (essence plus three persons).

The way this problem has been avoided in the past is through the doctrine of perichoresis, or mutual indwelling of the persons. The three persons interpenetrate each other in such a way that the persons remain distinct, and yet share fully in the essence. Perichoresis is also the only resource we have for understanding how God can be one essence that is simple (not divisible), and yet also be three distinct persons.

Objections to this doctrine usually bring God down to man’s level. For instance, someone will object that an essence cannot be so shared. The objection will only prove true, however (upon close examination), of mortal and finite essences. An infinite essence such as God’s essence is not limited by such problems.

The other problem we will have to avoid is in saying that the essence of God underwent any change whatsoever in the Incarnation. Here the Chalcedonian formulations help us out. The two natures of Christ remain distinct, even though inseparable. Therefore, the divine nature of Christ did not change at all when the Son added a full human nature to Himself.

This helps us answer the question: did God’s essence become incarnate? We have to say that God’s essence did not change into something else at the Incarnation. At the same time, we have to say that God’s essence was involved in the Incarnation. The Reformed scholastics help us out here. Their formulation is that God’s essence is incarnated, but only in one of its hypostases or persons (see Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, volume 4, p. 211). The process of incarnation is one of addition. A full human nature is added, taken up in hypostatic union with the second person of the Trinity, the essence of God in the second person. This must not be understood in any way that would imply that a separate already-formed human person was joined to the divine person. The full human nature (body and soul) of Christ only ever exists in hypostatic union with the divine nature. This being said, the Father and the Holy Spirit were not passive spectators in the Incarnation either. All the outside works of the Triune God are indivisible (which means that all three persons of the Trinity are at work in everything God does). The Father sent both the Son and the Spirit in the process of incarnation, and the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary. This must qualify what was said about only the second person being incarnated. For while it is true that only the second person became incarnated, yet it is also true that the Father and the Holy Spirit were involved.

Extra Services?

The Puritans generally rejected extra services of worship besides the Sunday Sabbath services. They lived in a context where the churches in power tended to require lots of extra services. There were feast-days, holy days, saint-days, etc. The Puritans believed that requiring all these extra services bound the conscience to something that was not God’s Word. Their position became clear: only the Sunday services of worship were required by Scripture. However, they did not forbid extra services entirely. WCF 21.5 states that “thanksgivings upon special occasions” are appropriate. The WCF does not specify what those special occasions are. We know from the rest of the standards that none of these extra services can be forced upon the people. However, that is a very different thing from saying that therefore they are not allowed.

If a congregation, therefore, decides that it wants to give thanks to God generally by holding a Thanksgiving service; give thanks to God for the incarnation of Jesus Christ at Christmas; and give thanks to God for Christ’s resurrection at Easter, this does not fall foul of the Regulative Principle, and it falls within the parameters of WCF 21.5. The congregation would then have decided that those are the special occasions on which it wants to give thanks. If someone were to respond by saying “those aren’t special occasions,” I would respond by saying, “who gets to decide what the special occasions are?” Is it not the congregation, led by the session? In my situation, for instance, the congregation is used to having a Thanksgiving service, a Christmas service and an Easter service. No one feels bound in their conscience to go. They go freely. This is very different, obviously, from what the Puritans were facing, in terms of required services.

Now, can we require people to go to extra services? Of course not. That would definitely be a violation of Scripture. Nor could we, hypothetically speaking, discipline anyone who did not come to the special services. They must be kept voluntary. This is the understanding of many Reformed churches through the years. One could not fault a church for holding only to the Sabbath services. However, it seems to go too far to judge churches that have Christmas and Easter services. There seems to be a range here of acceptable practice.

How Can Our Theology Be True?

It was a commonplace in Reformed scholasticism to make a distinction between archetypal theology and ectypal theology. This distinction has been lost in subsequent centuries, greatly to the loss of the church. The Reformed scholastics, however, understood that humans, being finite, cannot comprehend the infinite. We can know things truly, but never in the same exact way that God knows. Here is one place I have felt that followers of Gordon Clark have not even remotely done justice to the history of Reformed theology. They want to blast Van Til for creating something that leads to complete skepticism and uncertainty. If we cannot know in the same manner as God knows, then we can know nothing at all, say the Clarkians. But Van Til did not create the archetypal/ecyptal distinction. It has been around for centuries. Just to take two classic examples, Johannes á Mark (Marckius in his Latin spelling; also sometimes spelled Marck), divides theology first into true theology and false theology. The first division of true theology is into archetypal (God’s own knowledge of Himself) and ectypal (the knowledge of God that an image-bearer can have). See his Medulla, 1.6-8.

Of greater importance, because of the deeper definition of “ectypal,” is Junius’s definition. He uses the same distinction of theology into true and false theology. He further divides true theology first into archetypal, which he calls “undoubtedly the wisdom of God Himself, or it is ectypal, having been fashioned by God” (page 86 of A Treatise on True Theology). What is fascinating about Junius’s definition of ectypal theology is that God made ecyptal theology. This becomes even more clear a few paragraphs later: “Ecyptal theology, whether taken in itself, as they say, or relatively in relation to something else, is the wisdom of divine matters, fashioned by God from the archetype of Himself, through the communication of grace for His own glory.” To all my readers, I do not think you will find a finer definition of ectypal theology anywhere else. What is vitally important for our purposes is that phrase “fashioned by God from the archetype of Himself, through the communication of grace.” How can we know that ecyptal theology does not relegate us to complete skepticism, not knowing anything truly, if we don’t know it the same way God does? We know that ecyptal theology is still true theology because God made it off the pattern of His own archetypal theology. And He gives it to us by grace (Junius certainly has revelation in mind here, which comes by grace). It is theology fitted to our capacity, as Junius also makes clear, and is “communicated by union, vision, or revelation” (ibid.).

The fact that our theology can only ever be ectypal does not stop Junius from stating that “The form of theology is divine truth” (p. 88), or that “This truth is holy, just, and perfect,” or that “this theology is one, eternal, and immutable” (p. 89). Ecyptal theology is true because God made it so. If ectypal theology were dependent on the human brain, it would be constantly changing, and it would provide zero certainty. It is matter for great rejoicing, then, that the certainty of ectypal theology does not rest on fallen human reason, but on God’s unchanging revelatory grace.

Great Discernment Needed

Isaiah 44:9-23

There are few areas of life where discernment is so necessary as in the area of idolatry. The problem is that our hearts are usually blind to our own idolatries. We don’t see it when we make fame, respect, money, security, relationships, sports teams, or just plain stuff our idols. We have significant blind spots when it comes to the matters of the heart. Jeremiah tells us that the heart is deceptively wicked. Just how deceptive, though, is the human heart? Isaiah gives us a vivid, not to say humorous illustration of how blind people can be to their own idolatry. As modern people, though, we have an additional problem that the ancient people didn’t have. Our problem is that many of our idols are less tangible, less visible. This means that we have an extra layer of deception that is possible. We look at a passage like this, and we are tempted to miss the application to ourselves entirely. We say, “Look at those poor benighted ancient people. They didn’t have a clue. In our modern, progressive, enlightened world, we don’t bow down to a piece of wood.” However, people do bow down to trees. Some people worship creation, what we call the tree-huggers. They seem to bow down to a piece of wood as well. Maybe the passage is more relevant to our modern day than we might have thought.

The first point to consider is that we become like whatever we worship. Our passage says that those who fashion idols are nothing. The witnesses to idolatry neither see or know. Verse 18 says that they don’t know or discern. Even more evocative is verse 20, which says that he feeds on ashes. The ashes are the ashes of the burnt log which constitutes the better half of the log. Psalm 115 puts the matter as clearly as anywhere in Scripture: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel, feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” So, we could put the matter this way: whoever worships a block of wood becomes a blockhead. The amazing thing about this principle is that it also works the other way. If we worship the one true God, then we become like Him. We are all worshipers. Every human being worships something or someone. If we worship ourselves, we turn in on ourselves, and become narcissists. If we worship other people, then we become sycophants with a dependent personality. If we worship Satan, we will become satanic. But if we worship God, we will become, eventually, as like him as it is possible for created beings to be.

Secondly, we see the absolute folly of idolatry. This passage makes fun of idolatry. It is funny, isn’t it? Look at how much effort goes into making an idol. First you gotta tools in order. The ironsmith is first. He labors over the coals, but if he doesn’t drink enough water, he becomes faint. Imagine becoming faint while making your tools! And if that wasn’t enough, he got hungry, too! Making your own idols is hungry, painstaking work. What a mundane and wearisome task this is, to create your own creator!

Next, we move on to the carpenter. Here we can see just how much discernment is needed. He has to know which one of the trees in the forest contains his god. Look carefully, Mr. Carpenter. You wouldn’t want accidentally, now, to pick the wrong tree, would you? Even more discernment is necessary, however, once the right tree is cut down. Which end of the log is right for the fire, and which end of the log is your god? What catastrophe would result if you accidentally picked the wrong end of the log? Notice what the carpenter says after disposing of both ends of the log. After he puts one end in the fire, he says, “Ah, I am warm, and I love looking into that fire.” Notice incidentally that he sees the fire, but he doesn’t see the light! After he makes the idol, he says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” How stupid, when really, both ends of the log are really only fit for the fire. Why is this so stupid? Well, it seems clear from the way Isaiah puts this that one end of the log is really only as valuable as the other end of the log. Again, that is why Isaiah says that he is feeding on ashes in verse 20. His soul is feeding on the burned side of the log, when he thinks he is feeding on the “god” side of the log.

Even more clearly and obviously, verse 18 tells us that these idol-makers haven’t got a clue. Don’t miss the point in verse 18 that God has shut their eyes. This is a judicial blindness that God has leveled against these idolaters. The idolater’s own heart also leads him astray, however, as verse 20 says, “a deluded heart has led him astray.”

The third point of our passage is that the creator of something is more exalted than the thing that is created. In verse 21, the Lord God says, “I formed you.” The true God forms and creates His creation. He is not created by the creation. This seems like a very obvious point, but people don’t seem to understand this about less tangible things. They forget that we are just as involved in making money or forming relationships as we would be in making a block of wood into an idol.

As verse 13 points out, the foolish idolater makes the idol into the form of a human being. That is as high as he can go. In all forms of idolatry, in fact, humanity can never get higher than itself. Look at all other religions, and they drag God down to the level of human beings. The Greek gods are a case in point. They were petty, selfish, lascivious, arbitrary, and cruel. They were no better than human beings.We cannot form our maker. How foolish it is, then, to believe that we can make an idol, when, after it is made, we have to baby it along, take care of it, make sure it doesn’t get burned up the fire that we used the other half of the log for. So, it is not just that the Creator is greater than than the creation. It is also a question of providence: the one true God takes care of His people, rather than the people taking care of God.

The fourth thing we see in our passage is that only the one true God can deliver people. He idolater asks his block of wood to deliver him, after he took such pains to make the god. Who really has the greater power to save? But in verse 22, we see that God is the one who blots out the transgressions of the people. Everything in verses 21-23 forms a contrast with what came before. God says that Israel is God’s servant in verse 21. This is opposed to the end of verse 17, where the idolater falls down in order to serve the dumb idol. God created us, whereas the idolater creates his own creator. God delivers His people from their sins, whereas a block of wood can do absolutely nothing except burn in a fire. Even the trees themselves find a proper place in God’s reckoning. The end of verse 23 has the trees singing the praises of God Almighty. Surely that is a better use for trees than making idols out of them!

So what do we really need from all this? We need to recognize our Creator. Great discernment is needed. There are many things out there which human beings worship. How do we know if we are worshiping the one true God? The answer is that God has to open up our eyes before we can see that. Just as Jesus opened the eyes of the blind, so also He opens the eyes of those who were spiritually blind before. What God does is the absolute opposite of what the idolater does. The idolater takes a tree that is alive and makes something dead out of it. God, however, does the opposite in bringing home a sinner to Himself: He takes a spiritually dead person and makes him alive. Verse 22 says this so clearly: “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” This leads us to the second takeaway.

The second thing we can take away from this is that we need the forgiveness of sins more than anything else in the whole world. That is something to sing about, as verse 23 says. We can only have the forgiveness of sins in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This whole passage ought to point us to a much better, infinitely wiser carpenter than this poor benighted fool of Isaiah 44. Jesus never does any of these things. Yet He came to earth to take on a created human nature in order to redeem us from our own sinful stupidity. What kind of a God would do that for His enemies? Only the one true God does that. Putting our faith in the one true God means that our faith resides in the only God who can save His people from their sins. No other idol or god in any false religion has a god who can save. Only the one true God saves.

Lastly, there is a note of final judgment in this text. Verse 11 says that those who make and worship false gods will be put to shame. They will all assemble together, therefore they shall be put to shame together. The only way to escape that shame is to put your faith and worship in the only being in or out of this universe that is worth believing and worshiping, and that being is the one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who forms the universe, and every human being in it. May we all sing to Him, as the heavens themselves do in verse 23, even the depths of the earth, the mountains, and all the trees of the forest.

The Real Difference On Election

I was thinking recently about the doctrine of election, and I asked myself what really constitutes the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism on this doctrine? Does it really consist in Calvinism’s fixed number of elect, and Arminianism’s unfixed number? This cannot be, logically speaking. Arminianism must believe in a fixed number of saved people. How else can they posit that God only elected those He foresaw would have faith? Would they really want to say that God foresaw incorrectly or could foresee incorrectly, and that some of those God thought would come to faith did not, in fact, come to faith? Of course, open theists would hold this position, but not your average Arminian.

I had been used to attacking the problem from a different angle. I had seen Reformed authors use this argument: if God foresaw who would come to faith, then isn’t a given person’s final destiny somehow fixed, and if so, then by whom or what?

Now, however, I see the issue a bit differently. If God can actually foresee who will be saved, then even in the Arminian position, the number of the saved is fixed, ultimately speaking, even if people can lose their salvation in the Arminian system. The Arminian cannot say that God would be mistaken in His foreknowledge, unless they are willing to go whole hog into the open theist position. So, if the number of saved people is fixed, then that cannot be the ultimate point of difference between Calvinism and Arminianism. The point of difference must lie elsewhere.

The previous paragraph makes it plain that Arminians also believe in limited atonement. They also believe that Christ’s death will not save all people from condemnation. Of course, their version of it is still different from the Reformed view (they believe, typically, that Christ’s death doesn’t actually save anyone, just makes salvation possible, and they also believe that this limited efficacy is applicable to everyone. What they go on to believe implicitly, it seems in most cases, is that salvation only does ever come to some, and not to others, so even in whatever saving efficacy they hold Christ’s death to have, it is still limited).

When we consider the five points of Calvinism, it becomes clear that unconditional election is the ultimate point of difference. To put it in a very vernacular way, does God love me because He loves me, or does He love me because I am so lovable? Is the cause of salvation to be found in us or in God? Arminians believe that the ultimate tipping point is our faith, especially because they believe God’s grace is resistible. And yet, as many Reformed have pointed out, they are (happily!) inconsistent on this point, since they pray to God for salvation for themselves and for others. Why pray to God if we are the ones who ultimately determine our own destiny? What can God do about it? Arminians really are aware in their heart of hearts that salvation comes from the Lord.

Commentaries for the Whole Bible

I have updated my recommendations for commentaries, based on what has come out in the last five years.

One of my good friends thought I should post a single post recommendation of the five to ten best commentaries on each book of the Bible. Piper’s recommendations are good, but not always the best, in my opinion (I’m not trying to put myself above Piper by saying this: it is just a difference of opinion). Furthermore, I regard this list as a place to start. As Richard Phillips says in the comments, pastors should be willing and able to read as many commentaries as they can stuff into their schedule. See the comments for some great discussion on these issues. Here are my recommendations for commentaries (most are modern, but there are exceptions):

Whole Bible Commentary Sets: Calvin, Henry, REBC

Old Testament Sets: Keil and Delitzsch

Genesis: Currid (volumes 1 and 2), Waltke, Candlish, Mathews (volume 1 and volume 2), Ross, Greidanus, Duguid (volume1, volume 2, volume 3) ; Exodus: Currid (volumes 1 and 2), Enns, Hamilton, Stuart, Mackay, Ryken, Alexander, Carpenter (volume 1, volume 2), and Houtman (volume 1, volume 2, volume 3), Garrett; Leviticus: Currid, Kiuchi, Bonar, Ross, Wenham, Hess, MathewsKaiser, Milgrom (volume 1, volume 2, volume 3); Numbers: Duguid, Wenham, Currid, Cole, Ashley, Milgrom, Olson, Harrison; Deuteronomy: Currid, Craigie, Tigay, Block, Fernando, McConville, Wright; Joshua: Hess, Woudstra, Davis, Currid, Hubbard, Pitkänen, McConville/Williams; Judges: Block, Davis, Butler, Schwab, Chisholm, Younger, Webb, Webb; Ruth: Hubbard, Duguid, Ulrich, Block, Block, Hawk; Samuel: Tsumura, Arnold, Woodhouse, Woodhouse, Davis (volume 1, volume 2), Firth, Youngblood, Bergen, Auld, Phillips, BaldwinKings: Davis (volumes 1 and 2), Ryken, Sweeney, Provan, Wray Beal, Davies; Chronicles: Pratt, Hill, Dillard, Boda, Knoppers (volume 1, volume 2), KleinKleinBraun, Merrill, Williamson; Ezra-Nehemiah: Williamson, Throntveit, Rata, Kidner, Thomas, Brown; Esther: Duguid, Jobes, Firth, Reid, Gregory, Tomasino; Job: Clines volume 1 and volume 2 and volume 3, Andersen, Hartley, Jones, Jackson, Fyall, Thomas, Longman, Walton, Seow, Ash, Gray; Psalms: Van Gemeren, Grogan, Mays, Kidner (volume 1, volume 2), Spurgeon, Ross (volume 1, volume 2, volume 3), Declaisse-Walford/Jacobsen/Turner, Hossfeld/Zenger (volume 2, volume 3); Proverbs: Waltke (volume 1 and volume 2), Longman, Fox, volume 1 and volume 2, Ross, Kitchen; Ecclesiastes: Seow, Bartholomew, Enns, Bridges, Ryken, Greidanus, O’Donnell, Schoors; Song of Songs: Hess, Garrett, Bergant, Exum, Longman, Duguid, Duguid, O’Donnell, Hamilton; Isaiah: Motyer, Webb; Mackay, volume 1, volume 2, Oswalt volume 1 and volume 2, Smith, Williamson, Grogan; Jeremiah: Ryken, Dearman, Lundbom (volumes 1, 2, and 3), Mackay volume 1 and volume 2, Thompson; Lamentations: Renkema, Dobbs-Allsopp, Mackay, Salters, Parry, Berlin; Ezekiel: Duguid, Block (volumes 1 and 2), Greenberg volume 1 and volume 2, Hummel volume 1 and volume 2, Naylor, Wright, Greenhill; Daniel: DuguidLongman, Ferguson, Schwab, Hill, Baldwin, Davis, Harman, Fyall; Minor Prophets (as a whole): McComskey, Nogalski, NAC, NIVAC, WBC, Tyndale; Hosea: Macintosh, Andersen/Freedman, Garrett, Dearman, Barrett, Kidner; Joel: Crenshaw, Garrett, Robertson, Busenitz, AllenAmos: Andersen/Freedman, Paul, Smith, Motyer, FyallObadiah: Raabe, Renkema, Busenitz, Block, Allen, BridgerJonah: Martin, Sasson, Mackay, Timmer, Phillips, Estelle, Youngblood, Nixon, Fairbairn, Lessing, RobertsonMicah: Waltke, Andersen/Freedman, Mackay, Davis, PhillipsNahum: Robertson, Bruckner, Mackay, Christensen, Spronk, BridgerHabakkuk: Andersen, Prior, Currid, Mackay, Robertson;  Zephaniah: Sweeney, Vlaadingerbroek, Berlin, Mackay, Webber, Robertson; Haggai: Moore (Geneva series, op), Verhoef, Mackay Duguid, Fyall, Merrill, PettersonZechariahPhillips, Kline, Mackay, Duguid, Gregory, Merrill, Petterson, Boda, Wolters, WebbMalachi: Hill, Baker, Mackay, Duguid, Snyman, Merrill, Petterson;

New Testament Sets: Kistemaker and Hendriksen, Lenski, Meyer

Matthew: France, Garland, Carson, Chamblin volume 1 and volume 2, Davies/Allison volume 1 and volume 2 and volume 3, Ryle, Osborne, Doriani, Wilkins, O’Donnell, Sproul; Mark: France, Edwards, Stein, Cranfield, Collins, Ryle, Garland, Garland, Strauss; Luke: Bock, Bovon, Ryken, Stein, Green, Garland, Marshall, Ryle, Edwards; John: Carson, Köstenberger, Köstenberger’s Theology of John, Michaels, Bruner, Phillips, Ryle; Acts: Bock, Fitzmyer, Peterson, Witherington Barrett volume 1 and volume 2, Thomas, Pervo, Keener, Waters, Schnabel; Romans: Moo, Fitzmyer, Cranfield volume 1 and volume 2, Jewett, Kruse, Longenecker, Nygren, Boice, Shedd, Hodge, Haldane, Morris, Porter, Runge; 1 Corinthians: Thiselton, Garland, Bailey, FitzmyerCiampa/Rosner, Naylor, Fee, Riddlebarger2 Corinthians: Harris, Garland, Barnett, Furnish, Thrall volume 1 and volume 2, Naylor (volume 1, volume 2), Seifrid, Guthrie; Galatians: Ryken, Longenecker, McWilliams, Pipa, Fesko, George, Schreiner, Barnes, Johnson, Moo, Wilson, Silva; Ephesians: O’Brien, Hoehner, Thielman, Best, Arnold, Baugh; Philippians: O’Brien, Silva, Fee, Hansen, Reumann, Martin-Hawthorne, Bockmuehl, Johnson, Holloway, Keown (volume 1, volume 2); Colossians: O’Brien, Garland, Moo, Harris, Wilson, Pao, Woodhouse; Thessalonians: Bruce, Green, Fee, Cara, Beale, Morris, Wanamaker, Phillips, Shogren, Weima; Pastoral Epistles: Ryken, Mounce, Knight, Towner, Marshall, Köstenberger, BarcleyPhilemon (see also Colossians): Fitzmyer, Barth, Nordling, McKnight; Hebrews: Attridge, Ellingworth, O’Brien, France, Lane volume 1 and volume 2, Owen, Phillips, Schreiner; James: Moo, McCartney, Blomberg, Motyer, Allison, McKnight, Krabbendam, Varner; 1 Peter: Achtemeier, Jobes, Green, Schreiner, Guthrie, Doriani, Leighton; 2 Peter/Jude: Davids, Bauckham, Green, Schreiner, Moo, Bateman; Epistles of John: Marshall, Kruse, Yarbrough, Stott, Lieu, O’Donnell, Jobes, Derickson; Revelation: Beale, Smalley, Johnson, Poythress, Koester, Phillips, Resseguie, Kelly, BeekeHamilton

Please note that I do not agree with the viewpoint of all of these commentaries. These are simply the five-ten best commentaries on each book of the Bible with a link to where they can be found (with a few exceptions).

Further Update: On someone’s suggestion over at the Puritan Board, I am going to explain what I mean by “best.” The way I am using it here is that of the answer to this question: which commentaries have the most explaining power? Which commentaries give me the most number of “aha” moments? I am here assuming that the reader of commentaries will read critically. I am also assuming that the reader will apply the text himself. That is the teacher/preacher’s job, although pointers are often helpful.

Canons of New Testament Textual Criticism

What I am writing here are the rules I go by. Textual criticism does not have explicit biblical guidelines informing it. Therefore, there are many theories out there, and my canons will not match other people’s canons. So I make no claim that this is what everyone ought to hold. Full disclosure: my canons place me in-between the critical text genealogical theory, and the majority text theory.

Preliminary considerations: I hold that all of these canons, or rules, have probabilistic force only. None of them is a “knock-out” punch. Each canon needs to be weighed in the balance with all the other canons. It will frequently happen that one canon will come into conflict with another canon in the practical application. For instance, should we go with the reading that has the best attestation, or the reading that can explain the origin of all the other readings?

Furthermore, textual criticism is both an art and a science. It is a science, because extremely detailed work is done on the age and provenance (place of origin) of manuscripts. Discovering whether the correctors were one or many is also important. Textual criticism is also an art because it requires judgment on the part of the textual critic, and imagination to come up with explanations as to why a certain reading arose. The judgment of the textual critic is an essential part of textual criticism. It is unavoidable.

I have very little respect for some of the rhetoric that flies around on the internet and in print anathematizing anyone who has a different view from the writer. There is over 90% agreement between Sinaiticus/Vaticanus and the Textus Receptus/Majority text. No doctrinal difference hangs on a textual difficulty. And yet, from the rhetoric of some, one might assume that the entire world was at stake in these questions. Textual criticism must be understood in proper proportion. Those who read the KJV have the Word of God. But so do those who read the ESV.

Lastly, no Christian should be afraid of textual criticism. “Criticism” here does not mean that we believe something is in error in the original autographs (the documents that come straight from the pen of the authors). It simply means that we compare manuscripts in order to discover the original reading. We don’t have the original autographs. Nevertheless, God has providentially preserved the text of Scripture in all ages. Textual criticism is, then, an exercise in reading in the book of God’s providence. The following canons are not in any particular order, although I will indicate which ones I deem to have greater weight than others.

1. Older manuscripts will tend to attest to an older reading. Notice the word “tend.” To say that the oldest readings are always found in the oldest manuscripts is an error. The testimony of the early church fathers, for instance (more on this later) can clearly attest to a reading that is older than the oldest manuscripts. Nevertheless, on the balance of probability, the older manuscripts have a better claim to have an older reading. This canon has strength, but it must be held with caveats.

2. Geographically diverse attestation of a reading makes its authenticity much more likely. If manuscripts from various places all have the same reading, that pushes back the origin of that reading far earlier. If a reading is only present in one geographical location, one can easily suspect that the reading arose only in that location. This canon weighs very heavily with me, maybe the most of any canon. There is one caveat here that must be mentioned, however: manuscripts could have been moved from their location of origin. An Alexandrian text might have been moved to Byzantium, for instance. Some might argue that there is an Alexandrian style of manuscript. Fair enough, but then, couldn’t the scribe also move?

3. Genealogically related manuscripts have somewhat less weight. I differ here both from those following Westcott and Hort, and from the Majority text theorists. I disagree with Westcott and Hort’s theory (manuscripts must be weighed, not counted) for the following reasons: a. It is far more difficult to prove genealogical relationships between manuscripts than is often supposed; b. cross-pollinating of manuscripts is quite possible (a manuscript from a different region could be used in correcting a manuscript, thus disrupting the genealogical “purity” of a family). I differ from Majority Text theorists in that I believe genealogical relationships among manuscripts is not impossible to show. If it can be shown, then a “family” of manuscripts would have less weight. The idea here is that the “children” manuscripts (the copies that were made) are very rarely, if ever, more accurate than the “parent” manuscript. This canon weighs less heavily with me than others.

4. The more difficult reading will tend to have a higher claim to be original. This canon is based on the theory that scribes would not make a text more difficult to understand, but they might very well be tempted to make a text easier to understand. This is plausible. However, this canon has a very important caveat: there is a limit to how difficult a reading can be, and still have plausibility. This limit does have a biblical basis: God cannot lie. In other words, a reading that makes the text come into direct conflict with other texts of Scripture cannot be original.

5. The reading that can best explain the origin of all the other readings has a better claim to be original. This is a very important canon. If one reading has a greater explanatory power than another, it is more likely original. If one reading, for instance, can explain another reading as dittography (accidental repeating of a word), whereas the second reading has no explanation for how the first reading arose, then the first reading has a greater claim to be original. This canon, however, also has an important caveat: sometimes accidents can happen in transcribing that are completely random.

6. Continuity of attestation in history means that a reading has a better claim. God would not let His Word disappear completely for centuries without attestation. However, this does not mean that unique readings of recently discovered manuscripts (such as Sinaiticus) would have to be discounted automatically. God’s providence can work in hidden ways (see the book of Esther, for instance).

7. The reading of the majority of manuscripts has a better claim to be original. This has to be balanced with the chastened genealogical principle that some manuscripts are better than others. Quality and quantity of manuscripts can both be important. It is a mistake, in my judgment, to discount the Byzantine tradition simply because its manuscripts are later. Byzantium is one of the prime locations that can attest to a geographically diverse reading. The majority cannot be ignored. Majority does have weight. However, the majority is not always correct, either. To say that the majority is always right is a logical fallacy. We do not arrive at truth merely by counting noses. Otherwise Athanasius would have been wrong. Nor is each manuscript of equal weight. Here it can be seen how precisely I line up in the middle between the critical text advocates and the majority text advocates.

8. The early church fathers can be of great weight in determining how old a reading is. In some cases, they can attest to a reading that is older than our oldest manuscripts. Irenaeus, for instance, lived mostly in the second century. We have only fragments of NT manuscripts that are older than Irenaeus’s writings. He often attests to a reading older than Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (both of which are fourth century manuscripts). However, this evidence must also be approached carefully. It can be doubtful if an early church father is actually quoting a biblical passage, and it can also be doubtful which passage the early church father was quoting. It is quite a bit easier in some writings than in others. Commentaries, of course, would be the easiest, since you already know which part of the Bible is under consideration.

« Older entries Newer entries »