Tim Challies's Blog
May 23, 2013
The American Bible Society has a superb collection of old and rare Bibles. The Society began this collection in 1818, just one year after its founding, and much of it is now on display in New York's Museum of Biblical Art. It includes a rare treasure: a first edition Novum Instrumentum omne, Desiderius Erasmus' Greek New Testament of 1516, the first printed edition of the New Testament in Greek. This Bible was to go on to play a key role in the Reformation and for that reason it is one of the 25 objects through which we can trace the history of Christianity.
Desiderius Erasmus was born in Holland in 1466, the illegitimate son of a Roman Catholic priest. He was given a fine education at monastic schools and, when he was twenty-five years old, was ordained as a priest. Three years later he began studies at the University of Paris and there he was exposed to Renaissance humanism and seeds were planted which would later make him a fierce opponent of excess and superstition within the Catholic Church. He soon travelled to England and while there was persuaded by John Colet, an English scholar, to study the New Testament. Erasmus believed that to properly understand the New Testament he would need to first learn Greek and for that reason he began an intense, three-year study of the language. Before long he was not only fluent in Greek, but had become an eminent scholar.
This dedication to Greek would eventually lead Erasmus to begin work on a Greek New Testament, his greatest contribution to the history of the church. At that time the Latin Vulgate remained the authorized Bible of the Church even though it had been translated over 1,000 years prior and even though Latin had long since become a dead language known only by scholars and clerics. Erasmus came to see that the Vulgate had certain inaccuracies and that the language could be polished, and for those reasons he set out to create a new Latin text. To do this, he first had to collect available Greek manuscripts, rather a difficult task since Greek was regarded with suspicion. He borrowed manuscripts from fellow scholar Johann Reuchlin and from the Dominican Library at Basel, Switzerland. While he had relatively few manuscripts available to him, and while he ignored some of the best of those at his disposal, the final result was still remarkably good. James White points out that Erasmus' success, "is more a witness to the preservation of the Scriptures over time than the (admittedly) great scholarship of Erasmus."
In 1516 the first printed edition rolled off the presses of John Froben who was based in Basle, under the title Novum Instrumentum omne. While this first edition contained many unfortunate typographical errors, a result of rushing the book to print, the second and subsequent editions corrected the majority of them; even then, few of the errors were of great significance. For centuries Erasmus' text would be the accepted Greek text and would soon be known as the textus receptus. It would provide a far more accurate text than the Vulgate and would far outlast his Latin translation.
A decade after Erasmus died, the Council of Trent would condemn his work and re-affirm that the Vulgate was to be the official text of the Roman Catholic Church. But by then Erasmus' work had already been widely disseminated. This recovered Greek allowed vernacular Bibles to be translated directly from the original text rather than having to translate from an already-translated Latin edition. One author writes, "It was the fountain and source from which flowed the new translations into the vernaculars which like rivers irrigated the dry lands of the mediaeval Church and made them blossom into a more enlightened and lovely form of religion." Erasmus' Greek New Testament would be the primary source Martin Luther would rely on when translating the New Testament to German; it would the primary source William Tyndale would use for his English translation. In fact, it would be the basis for almost every translation from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
The volume owned by the American Bible Society is a first edition, printed in 1516. It is a two-column Bible with the Greek in the left column and Erasmus' fresh Latin translation in the right. It remains as a testament to God's preservation of the Greek text, through which we can enjoy access to the words of Scripture as God gave them to us. And it stands as an object created in a pre-Reformation world that would play a crucial role in the great upheaval that would soon come.
Pre-Reformers had begun to battle the Roman Catholic Church, recovering the pure gospel and attempting to give the people the Bible in their own tongues. The printing press had given the ability to disseminate ideas with much greater speed and at far lower cost. And now the Greek New Testament text had been recovered and collated, allowing accurate translations into the common tongues. The framework for Reformation was now in place and all that remained was a spark that would light a great fire.
For more information, you may wish to consult James White’s excellent article on Erasmus and his text.
Modern Parables 2 - I have often expressed my appreciation for the Modern Parables series of films. Well, they are now using Kickstarter to try to fund a second series of films. Check it out and consider being part of it! (And if you’ve never checked out the first series, you should.)
The Sensuous Christian - Here’s a quote from R.C. Sproul. It tells about a book he’s almost written several times.
The Case for Man/Woman Marriage - This is a great little video that gives a case for maintaining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. If there’s a problem with it, it’s simply that this is an issue won and lost on the emotional, not the logical, level.
King Solomon’s Commencement Address - I read yesterday that not one of the Ivy League schools has a conservative giving the commencement address this year. Well, maybe they should have asked King Solomon. Joe Carter speculates on what Solomon would tell them.
50 Common Misquotations - Here are 50 common misquotations you should stop using.
It must not content us to take our bodies to church if we leave our hearts at home. —J.C. Ryle
May 22, 2013
As you know by now, David Murray and I are taking a course together and we invited everyone else to take it with us. Together we are going through R.C. Sproul’s course on the Old Testament’s Prophets, Poetry, and Wisdom Literature. Week-by-week we are recording a podcast to share our thoughts and answer some questions.
In this week’s podcast we look at Psalms and Ecclesiastes. And David also gives us an introduction to his baby son who was born last week.
Just about every Christian has memorized the closing verses of Galatians and Paul's description of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. This is the character of the man or woman who has been justified by grace through faith.
Yet as we review the list, and especially as we review it slowly and prayerfully, we may find ourselves growing weary and discouraged by how little of that fruit we see. We are still angry at times, still struggling with self-control, still not nearly as gentle as Jesus Christ was and is.
Paul's metaphor of the "fruit" of the Spirit can help us, though. Here are five things that are true of fruit trees and, therefore, true of the fruit of the Spirit.
1. Growth is Gradual. We are an impatient people accustomed to instant gratification. But fruit grows slowly. A fruit tree grows gradually and over many years of careful and deliberate cultivation. If you purchase a sapling apple tree today, a sapling which is already more than a year old and well established, and if you plant it in the right climate zone and in fertile soil, and if there are other trees nearby that can help pollinate it, and if you care for it exactly as you should, it will probably be close to 5 years before you see the first apple dangling from the end of a branch and many years beyond that before it is at its top production, bearing the most and best fruit. Trees are tended carefully, pruned deliberately, and loved patiently until they bear the best fruit. Our growth in character is also far more gradual than we may like but the patience that is to mark our lives first marks God himself; he is patient with us as we grow toward maturity.
2. Growth is Inevitable. A healthy fruit tree that has been lovingly tended will bear fruit. It is inevitable. It is equally inevitable that the Christian indwelled by the Holy Spirit will and must bear fruit. No matter what the Christian’s life is like when he is first saved, that fruit will grow and display itself. The inevitability of fruit challenges every person who professes faith to examine his life to ask whether the Spirit’s fruit is present there. While we are saved by faith and not fruit, the fact remains that faith necessarily produces fruit. The growth is inevitable where there is life.
3. Growth is Internal. Fruit trees grow and produce fruit when they are deeply rooted in good soil and when the tree is internally strong. Fruit cannot grow on dead branches attached to a dead trunk and dead roots. It is not the fruit that makes the tree alive but the living tree that produces the fruit. In the same way the outworking of the fruit of the Spirit depends upon internal life. It is not giftedness--even what may be spiritual gifts--that proves that the Christian is alive, but fruit. The fruit of the Spirit is proof of a deep, internal health and grows out of that deep, internal health.
4. Growth is Symmetrical. A healthy fruit tree does not grow fruit on only one of its branches, but on all of them. There is a symmetry to a healthy, thriving fruit tree so that the whole tree bows low under the weight of all the fruit. The Christian's growth is similar. Whenever we look at the fruit of the Spirit we need to acknowledge that the word fruit is singular, not plural. The fruit is the entire list, not the individual character traits. This tells us that this fruit also grows together with a kind of symmetry. These traits are so inevitably linked that we cannot have one without the others. It is impossible to truly love without being patient and kind. It is impossible to exhibit self-control toward another person without a God-given joy.
5. Growth is Invisible. You can stand beside a fruit tree all day and all night and you will never actually see the fruit grow. No one has ever seen an apple visibly grow larger. Apples do grow, of course, but not in a way that can be measured in real-time. In the same way, the Christian's growth is best measured after time and difficult circumstances have passed. It is after times of great sorrow or difficulty that you can say, “I used to respond to a situation like this with anger and lashing out; but yesterday I responded with joy and self-control.” The growth has been invisible, but real.
The wise farmer tends his orchard with patience and love, expecting that when his trees have been cared for properly, they will indeed bear fruit. The Holy Spirit tends us with that same patience and love, knowing that we too will bear fruit that will attest to his presence and bring glory to the Father.
Note: I found the first four headings in Tim Keller's Galatians For You.
Ligonier Ministries has announced that R.C. Sproul’s Crucial Questions series will now be free for Kindle and other e-readers. So have at it! Can I Be Sure I'm Saved?; Can I Have Joy in My Life?; Can I Know God's Will?; Can I Trust the Bible?; Does God Control Everything?; Does Prayer Change Things?; How Should I Live in this World?; What Can I Do with My Guilt?; What Does It Mean to be Born Again?; What Is Baptism?; What Is Faith?; What Is the Trinity?; Who Is Jesus?; Who Is the Holy Spirit?
Pope Francis and the Re-Marianization of the Papacy - “Benedict XVI has been portrayed as a less Marian Pope, although he has always prayed to Mary on a daily basis and has included many Marian elements in all his work. After a short recess, Mary is once again a prominent figure with Pope Francis. His pontificate seems to be significantly shaped by Marian theology and veneration.”
All I Owe - In honor of Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s 200th birthday, Matthew Smith is giving away the hymn “All I Owe” (lyrics by M’Cheyne). It’s a today-only kind of download, so don’t wait too long.
Matthew 5:17 - “The freedom of the Christian is not freedom from the law, but freedom to live out the good life that the law constantly points us to. This end or purpose, for which the law was always intended, and to which it pointed, is the fulfilment that Jesus has come to bring--a fulfilment in which God's people have the law written by the Spirit on their hearts, so that they perceive and love the goodness that the Old Testament law embodies and foreshadows, and long to practise it.”
An Adoption Story - This is a sweet video.
Parents, Do You Think Before You Post? - There is wisdom and a challenge in this article. “Most discussions of children and online protocol center on privacy settings and password safety for school-age children, but my concern starts earlier. Are we parents protecting and preserving the future privacy wishes and best interests of our small children in our own online posting choices?”
What Our Words Tell Us - “About two years ago, the folks at Google released a database of 5.2 million books published between 1500 and 2008. You can type a search word into the database and find out how frequently different words were used at different epochs.” The results tell us about ourselves.
True greatness, true leadership, is found in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you. —Oswald Sanders
May 21, 2013
Who is publishing good books today? I found myself wondering which publishers are releasing the kind of books that end up in my mailbox and the kind of books that are then read and reviewed. I don’t mean to say that I am the final arbiter of which books are good and which are not; rather, like everyone else, I read and form opinions and, at the end, either recommend or don’t recommend.
I went back through the book review archives, looked at the books I have reviewed positively over the past several months, and jotted down the publishers. I was surprised and encouraged to see just how many different publishers are represented here. It turns out that a lot of publishers are releasing lots of excellent books.
The Good Book Company
Serving Without Sinking by John Hindley
Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Hiestand and Jay S. Thomas
Harvest House Publishers
The Kind of Preaching God Blesses by Steven Lawson
Lift Every Voice (Moody)
It Happens After Prayer by H.B. Charles Jr.
Blood Work by Anthony Carter
Joni and Ken by Ken and Joni Tada
Crucifying Morality by R.W. Glenn
Saving Eutychus by Gary Millar & Phil Campbell
Harvest House Publishers
Suburbianity by Byron Yawn
Bound Together by Chris Brauns
C. S. Lewis - A Life by Alister McGrath
The Good Book Company
Galatians For You by Tim Keller
Desperate by Sarah Mae & Sally Clarkson
Is There Anybody Out There? by Mez McConnell
Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton
Follow Me by David Platt
Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by J.D. Greear
Risk Is Right by John Piper
The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken and Gregg Lewis
David C. Cook
Cold-Case Christianity by J.Warner Wallace
David C. Cook
Multiply by Francis Chan
Who Do You Think Are? by Mark Driscoll
Creature of the Word by Matt Chandler, Eric Geiger & Josh Patterson
Reformation Heritage Books
The Gospel’s Power and Message by Paul Washer
The Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler
New Growth Press
When Your Husband Is Addicted To Pornography by Vicki Tiede
New Growth Press
Sexual Sanity by David White
The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon
Embracing Obscurity by Anonymous
A couple of notes: I did not include Cruciform Press in this list, though I am confident that we are publishing good books too. Also, this is not at all an exhaustive list as there are other quality publishers whose books I have not read recently.
You may be one of those Christians who serves. And serves. And serves some more. When you head to church on Sunday you are preparing yourself to serve and when you return home you are exhausted. And if you are one of those servant-hearted Christians it may just be that the more you serve, the more you see how so many other Christians serve sparingly and half-heartedly. You may find that it is a challenge to serve Christ and to keep your joy.
Enter Serving Without Sinking by John Hindley. This is a book about happens inside our minds and hearts as we do our acts of Christian service. It is a call away from weariness, discouragement, bitterness and joylessness as we serve. And it does that by pointing us to the greatest Servant of all--the one who came to us not to be served but to serve. "This book isn't primarily about our service. It's mainly about Jesus Christ, and about His service. ... Jesus does not want you to measure your life by your service of Him. He does not want your service to get in the way of your love for Him. He did not come to be served by you--He came to serve you." This one truth is remarkably freeing. It frees us from service done to earn or impress or compare and instead allows us to enjoy the ways in which he serves us. But, of course, when we are so loved and so served, we will long to joyfully serve in return.
"When it comes to Christian service, the first place to look is at what is going on in our hearts, not what we are doing with our hands." For this reason Hindley invests some time in exploring heart motivations that guide our service. He encourages the reader to see that God cares far more about the love behind our deeds than the deeds themselves. And yet we can so often serve out of a wrong view of God or a wrong view of people. We can serve to win God's favor or we can serve to be seen and praised by men.
Perhaps the book's most unusual but most helpful application is for the servant-hearted Christian to consider serving less. Some of us serve as if our service is a pillar that holds up the church and as if God's kingdom is dependent upon our shift in the nursery or our crock pot full of meatballs.
As he explains service, Hindley sets our relationship to God in three contexts: we are friends of the Boss, we are the bride of the King and we are sons of the Father. Each of these relationships helps us understand how we relate to God and how we ought to relate to him through our means of service.
This book is not a call away from service, but a call to the best kind of service--service done with the best of our abilities for the highest of motives.
If your service of Christ has grown grudging (or stopped happening), you don't need to try to obey more. You need to love more. This means that you don't need to try harder; you need to ask your Father to send His Spirit to work in your heart to make you more loving. You need Him to work in you so that you can increasingly enjoy the goodness of Jesus, appreciate the service of Jesus, and let Jesus recapture your heart with His love.
As I was reading Serving Without Sinking I found myself in conversations with some of the very people it addresses--people who serve their church and who love to serve, but who are also growing weary. It was a joy to recommend the book to them and I anticipate that it will be a great blessing to them. And to you.
Serving Without Sinking is available at Amazon.
The Goodness of God and the Reality of Evil - Dr. Mohler reflects on the tornado in Oklahoma: “Every thoughtful person must deal with the problem of evil. Evil acts and tragic events come to us all in this vale of tears known as human life. The problem of evil and suffering is undoubtedly the greatest theological challenge we face.”
The Mystery of Suffering and Sovereignty - Sam Storms, who pastors in Oklahoma City, also reflects on the tragedy.
Christian Adoption - John Piper responds to some recent criticisms of evangelical adoptions with a series of disavowals and affirmations.
14 Ways to Use the Bible - Here is a list of 14 ways to use the Bible.
Complaining to God - R.C. Sproul provides an answer to this question: “Is it Ever Legitimate to Complain to God or to Express Anger to God?”
Sanctification by Time Travel - “The Bible encourages us to spiritual time travel. The believer uses faith to transport herself into the future, a spiritual experience that has significant sanctifying impact on the present (2 Peter 3:11). And in Romans 6, the believer uses faith to transport himself back in time, again with significant present impact.”
The saints are chastened and the sinners are enriched: this is no small trial of faith. —C.H. Spurgeon
May 20, 2013
Series Introduction: I live in a small house. I work in a small office in a small church. For those reasons and others I will never have a huge library. When I add a book I almost always remove a book, a practice that allows me to focus on quality over quantity. Over the past couple of years I have focused on building a collection of commentaries that will include only the best volumes on each book of the Bible. I know when I'm in way over my head, so before I began I collected every good resource I could find that rated and reviewed commentaries. I studied them and then began my collection on the basis of what the experts told me. Since I did all of that work, and since I continue to keep up with the project, I thought it might be helpful to share the recommendations.
My focus is on newer commentaries (at least in part because most of the classics are now freely or cheaply available) and I am offering approximately 5 recommendations for each book of the Bible, alternating between the Old Testament and the New. Today I have turned to the experts to find what they say about Ruth.Ruth
Robert Hubbard, Jr. - The Book of Ruth (New International Commentary on the Old Testament, 1989). Ruth is one of the few books of the Bible that I have preached straight-through and, therefore, one I can speak to from at least a bit of personal experience. Hubbard’s receives near-unanimous praise and Keith Mathison says it well: “Robert Hubbard's commentary on Ruth is a model of how commentaries should be written. It is careful and clear. It manages to deal with both details and the big picture. This is the first commentary to which one should turn with questions about the Book of Ruth.” It was certainly helpful to me. (Amazon, Westminster Books)
Daniel I. Block - Judges, Ruth (New American Commentary). Block’s commentary covers both Judges and Ruth and is highly recommended for its treatment of both books. Longman gives it a 5-star rating and says "This contribution is clearly the best thing available on the book of Judges [and, Ruth]. Block is thoroughly aware of all the literature that precedes his own, and he incorporates what is good and criticizes what is bad." He also praises Block's insights along with his literary and theological analysis. (Amazon, Westminster Books)
Iain Duguid - Esther & Ruth (Reformed Expository Commentary). I read this one devotionally before reading it during sermon preparation and in both uses found it very, very helpful. It is a sermon-based commentary and ideal for giving an example of how to preach the text and how to illustrate and apply it. This is one of my favorites in the Reformed Expository Commentary series. (Amazon, Westminster Books)
Frederic W. Bush - Ruth, Esther (Word Biblical Commentary). This commentary is significantly more technical than the others in the list, and a little more philosophical. Yet it is also very thorough and very helpful. (Amazon, Westminster Books)
Sinclair Ferguson - Faithful God: An Exposition of the Book of Ruth. I read this little book years ago and returned to it when preaching Ruth. When I reviewed it many years ago I said, “Do not let its small size and relative obscurity fool you. This is a wonderful book and one that I trust can and will bless you as it has blessed me. There is much wisdom in its pages. There is much to ponder, to reflect upon, and to prayerfully integrate into a life.” I stand by those comments today. While it is not a commentary proper, it is still tremendously helpful. (Amazon, Westminster Books)
Let me close with a couple of questions: What are your preferred commentaries on Ruth? Are there some you've found particularly helpful for preaching or for devotional purposes?
We all know that the story of Jonah is really the story of Jonah and his whale, right? Every childrens' Bible majors on that whale and its role in miraculously delivering Jonah from the depths of the sea. The whale is the hero of the story, the knight in shining blubber who comes to the rescue.
Except, of course, that he isn't (and may not be a whale at all since the Bible identifies him only as a "giant fish"). We just need to fast-forward a little bit and go to the life of Christ where he tells us that the story of Jonah is really all about him. Jonah is about Jesus. Jesus is the hero of the story. Here is what Jesus says in Matthew 12 after the Scribes and Pharisees ask him for a sign, a circus trick that would validate his claims.
An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
As Jesus interprets Jonah he shows that it points to him. He shows that Jonah serves as a type of Christ, a pointer to the future Savior, and says that there is a correlation between Jonah's three days in the belly of the fish and Jesus' three days in the tomb ("the heart of the earth"). This is not to say that the story of Jonah isn't real and didn't have immediate, historical application. It really happened and was really meant to teach God's people in that day. However, Jonah's story was to serve a greater and longer-lasting purpose in pointing people to a future Savior and in teaching something about that Savior. Today we read Jonah in both of these ways, as a prophetic book that speaks to God's people in Jonah's day, and as a book that points us to Jesus Christ.
As I thought about this I was struck by an application: If we are going to make the story of Jonah all about a giant fish, we should make the story of Jesus' death and resurrection all about a tomb. The childrens’ Bibles should spend a whole chapter and all kids of illustrations showing that tomb and discussing its intricacies. We should spend all kinds of time talking about the way a tomb was carved out of rock, and consider the type of rock, and what color it was, and what it would have felt like and smelled like and how a door would have been constructed and placed in front of the opening, and what it would have cost, and all the rest.
But we don't. If you were to tell me about Jesus and focus all that attention on the tomb I would say that you are missing the point. And if you are going to make Jonah the story of a whale, you are also missing the point. If we focus all our attention on the tomb and make the tomb the hero, we miss the real story which is a man who was dead for three days suddenly and miraculously coming to life. What happened inside the man is far more important than what happened inside the tomb. And the same is true of Jonah. If we focus all our attention on the fish, we miss the real story which doesn’t happen inside the stomach of a giant fish but inside the heart of a sinful and rebellious man. The fish, like the tomb, is merely the setting for the true story.
Of course we don't need to minimize the fish or be embarrassed by it. We can give it all the attention the Bible gives it, which is to say, we can point to it as a clear example of God sovereignly arranging even the path of a fish to bring about his good purposes. It is when we give it more attention than Jonah or Jesus gave it that we make ourselves vulnerable to missing the much bigger, much better point of the story.