Daily Light – May 14, 2020

We Need Eschatology Right Now

Article by Michael J. Kruger

Some of the most overlooked portions of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy are the chapters right after the final battle in The Return of the King. In these chapters, J. R. R. Tolkien expresses a vision for cosmic renewal that closely mimics the one laid down in the biblical accounts.

Revelation 21:5 reads, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” God has declared that one day he will set all things right. Likewise, at the end of The Return of the King, Tolkien describes how evil has been vanquished and all things set right.

After all, in these final chapters there is a gathering of the “saints,” a great feast, new songs of praise, and even a final wedding. Frodo and Sam receive crowns on their heads.

This sentiment is best captured by one of Sam’s statements, which is one of my favorite in the entire story. After the ring is destroyed at Mount Doom, Sam wakes from his sleep, surprised he’s alive and surprised to see Gandalf. He then asks, “Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”

This statement is quite profound, because it is different than asking whether good things are going to come true. Rather, it asking whether sad things are going to come untrue.

Thus Sam’s statement, like Christian eschatology, recognizes that there’s something terribly wrong with the world. It’s filled with sadness, cursed by sin, groaning as it awaits its redemption. And in the final consummation, those sad things will come untrue. The curse will be rolled back. The world will be changed.

Everyone Has an Eschatology

Sam’s statement reminds us of the whole point of eschatology. Eschatology isn’t so much about millennial positions or the structure of Revelation. It’s primarily about the problem of evil and how that problem will be solved. Eschatology is about how one deals with the sad things in the world.

In this sense, then, everyone has an eschatology. The believer, the atheist, the agnostic, the Hindu—everyone has to give an account for how evil is going to be dealt with. So the question isn’t whether people have an eschatology, but whether it’s a compelling and coherent eschatology.

Eschatology isn’t so much about millennial positions or the structure of Revelation. It’s about how one deals with the sad things in the world.

And the Christian worldview has a compelling and coherent eschatology. It can explain why the world is the way it is (the fall), it provides a definition of evil (violation of God’s law), and it gives real hope for the future (God will destroy evil and set all things right).

Let’s Be Eschatological Christians

For this reason, eschatology isn’t a topic that should be reserved for theologians or scholars. It’s a topic for every Christian and, for that matter, every person. We all inhabit a dark world. And no message is more relevant to a dark world than news concerning how that world will one day be changed.

And this news, perhaps more than ever before, is needed in a world haunted by the coronavirus.

So, let us be eschatological Christians. Not in an effort to win debates about which millennial view is correct, but in an effort to proclaim hope to a world that desperately needs it.

Michael J. Kruger is president of Reformed Theological Seminary’s Charlotte, North Carolina, campus, where he also serves as professor of New Testament. He served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in 2019. He is the author of Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church (IVP Academic, 2018) and Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Crossway, 2012). He blogs regularly at Canon Fodder.

Daily Light – May 13, 2020

Lay Aside the Weight of Slander

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

God hates slander (Proverbs 6:1619). It is evil. That’s why Paul lists it as a behavior of those who hate God (Romans 1:30) and why James calls it demonic behavior (James 3:15–16).

Slander occurs whenever someone says something untrue about someone else that results, intentionally or unintentionally, in damaging that someone else’s reputation. And when it occurs, it becomes a divisive, discouraging, and confusing weight that often affects numerous people — sometimes many, many people.

Because of its poisonous power, it is one of the adversary’s chief strategies to divide relationships and deter and derail the mission of the church. We must be on our guard against this closely clinging sin and frequently lay it aside (Hebrews 12:1).

The Subtlety of Slander

Sometimes saying something untrue and damaging about someone is bold and blunt. But often slander is insidiously subtle, especially since we have heard slander all our lives in almost every context and grown accustomed to it. This means we must heighten our sensitivity to it and lower our tolerance of it.

Slander can wear a hundred masks. I’ll mention a few common ones.

Sometimes we pass along slanderous information that seems almost like harmless hearsay, yet the effect it has on our listeners is to leave them with an unfairly negative perception of another. Sometimes we embellish with information or tone a negative report about someone in order to enhance our listener’s perception of ourselves.

Sometimes we have a very real concern about someone, but we share it with someone who cannot benefit from or help with the concern. We do this because we simply want our listeners to think worse of a particular person. Or if we share a concern with an appropriate person, we can sometimes indulge our speculations or presumptions, mixing them almost imperceptibly with facts for our listeners, distorting the concern in order to sway an outcome in a direction we desire.

The net effect of all forms of slander is to unjustly devalue another person’s reputation.

Slander Is Stealing

This devaluing is at the heart of what makes slander evil. The Bible tells us, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). In this context, a good name represents a person’s character, which is the most valuable thing about their identity. A good name is who we are in the minds of others. And since relationships trade in the currency of trust, a reputation is a very precious asset.

So whenever we handle a person’s name — who they are in the minds of others — we are stewarding a treasure that belongs to them. If we damage a person’s reputation unjustly, we are stealing their good name; we are vandalizing their character. This causes very real, sometimes long-lasting damage to people, because restoring a devalued name is very difficult. Who knows what love, joy, counsel, comfort, and opportunities we take from people if we care for their name carelessly?

God knows. And he hates it. God hates when we speak evil of his name (Exodus 20:7) and when we speak evil of others (Titus 3:2). He will hold us accountable for every careless word we speak (Matthew 12:36). This is great incentive for us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).

Fight Slander First in Yourself

The foremost slanderer we must silence is the one inside us. Full of malignant pride, our sin natures are not interested in truth, but in self-glory. So they seek to manipulate others through slander (or flattery) for our own selfish benefit.

Sin (and therefore our demonic harassers) seizes on a concern for or an offense we’ve received from another and seeks to distort it into thinking evil of that person.

Thinking evil of another is assigning imagined or exaggerated negative qualities to them that don’t exist. Often this begins as private fantasies where we nurture our concerns or offense by imagining ourselves justified in our righteousness and others condemned in their evil. But in truth, all we’re doing is passing our own evil thoughts on to imaginations disguised as other people. That’s our sin nature’s slanderer talking. We are fools to listen to it.

And when our slander spills out from ourselves to others — and it will if we don’t catch it soon enough — it is both selfishly indulgent and cowardly.

Slander is indulgent because often what we really seek is the self-flattery buzz of our listener approving and admiring us more than the one we are slandering. We are robbing another’s reputation to get the drug of self-flattery.

Slander is cowardly because it’s a way of nurturing a concern or an offense and gaining sympathizers without doing the courageous work of bringing it directly to the source of our concern or offense. Our rationalizations for this can be countless, but essentially we don’t have the guts to deal with it head-on. This means our character is in serious question, since we are willing to vandalize another’s character to gain allies.

We must grow ruthless in ignoring and silencing our slandering sin natures.

Helping Each Other Fight Slander

When someone slanders another to us, we must remember that we are not mainly fighting flesh and blood, but spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). Satan knows that slander deadens and splits churches, poisons friendships, and fractures families. He knows slander quenches the Holy Spirit, kills love, short-circuits spiritual renewal, undermines trust, and sucks the courage out of the saints. So our goal, particularly in the context of the church, is to help each other shed demonic weights and avoid satanic stumbling blocks.

So how do we do this? The best way is to become people who are not safe to slander around. We must ask each other questions like:

Have you shared your concern with this person directly? I’d be willing to go with you to talk to him.

Just to be clear, is this information I should know? Do you want me to help you pursue reconciliation?

Are you doing everything you possibly can to put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander?” (Ephesians 4:31)

How can I help you guard this person’s reputation like a treasure? (Proverbs 22:1)

In other words, friends don’t let friends slander. Friends don’t let friends act like God-haters (Romans 1:30). The more we love people, the more we hate slander, because a slanderer hates his victims (Proverbs 26:28).

Let us remember that we are stewards of the treasure of each other’s good names. Let us resolve to avoid sharing information that is unnecessarily damaging to another person’s reputation and to repent to everyone affected if we do. Let us seek to silence the sin nature slanderer within and graciously give and receive others’ help when one of us slips, perhaps unaware, into slander. Let us do damage to Satan’s forces by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Let us lay aside the destructive sin-weight of slander.

A Word About Slander and Abusive Situations

There are times when it is necessary and not slanderous to discuss or share information that is damaging to a person’s reputation. Remember, slander is untrue damaging information. But sometimes a person’s real sins are of such a nature that they must become public for the sake of justice and individual safety. Here are just a few sample scenarios:

Reporting confirmed, documented sin and abuse to appropriate people in positions of authority who can do something about it.

Participating as an appropriate person in spiritual, and in some cases civil, authority in an investigation such as a report of someone’s sinful, perhaps abusive, behavior with the intent of either confronting that person or clearing their good name.

Discreetly, and without unnecessary details, informing others of another’s confirmed sinful or abusive behavior because, without this knowledge, someone might suffer real harm.

Seeking pastoral counsel regarding how to navigate a complex and ambiguous situation, doing everything you can do to guard the reputation of a person in question from unnecessary damage.

Jesus’s instructions in Matthew 18:15–17 must guide us in such difficult cases. And Jesus expects us to behave circumspectly in them, always seeking to preserve others’ reputations as much as possible, knowing that gossip and slander are always temptations crouching at our doors.

In an age of social media, that lacks the functional information-spreading restraints of past eras, let us be all the more slow to post (“slow to speak” — James 1:19) analysis, speculation, and commentary on information about another person or group, even if it has become public in our slander-saturated culture, that might eventually prove slanderous. All the serious biblical warnings about slander still apply, which should make us all, especially those of us with “platforms,” tremble.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities.

Daily Light – May 12, 2020

In Marriage as in Life, Weak Is Strong

Article by Dave Harvey, DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary

Have you ever noticed that a cellphone battery doesn’t last as long after you download an update? By now you know the drill: update > unplug > scramble madly for the charger.

I don’t get it.

People have lived in space for a year phoning Houston for box scores while having no battery problems. But here on terra firma, a longer-lasting cellphone battery still eludes us. But wait, this frustration is actually cultivated and purposeful; a sales device in an organized scheme.

In economics and industrial design, there’s a merchandizing strategy called planned obsolescence. It’s a fancy term to describe when a product is created with an artificially limited lifespan. The goal of the design weakness is to get you ready for an upgrade.

Manufacturers make their product obsolete after a certain period of time so that their customers will return to purchase the newest version. Profits boost by creating need.

The plan swings on a simple hinge: built-in weakness leads to dependence.

Did you know there’s a similar principle at work in God’s economy? And the principle plays out weekly in Christian marriage. God installs limitations, suffering, pain, and thorns into our lives to make us dependent on him. One irony of marriage is in how swiftly it yanks back the veil that covers our imperfections. With singles, weaknesses surface in other ways.

Paul experienced the effects of this plan after his magnificent and mysterious trip to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2–10). He was transformed by this experience, but not in the way we may think.

One of the ironies of fallenness is that sometimes even the best experiences push us to self-centered places. Our heart exults in the experience of the good rather than in the Giver of the good. So, in an act of love, God takes the things in which we most exult—things like a great marriage or a manageable parenting path—and transforms them into places that reveal our desperate need for him. To keep us from being unwisely elated, God installs a thorn in our life that pins us to our Savior.

Speaking of thorns, there’s plenty of speculation about the exact nature of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” Some commentators suggest it was an illness, others say persecution, still others say a physical malady, like maybe an eye condition or a speech defect. We don’t fully know.

But we know enough.

We know, for instance, that this thorn became a monumental affliction. Why else would a guy who suffered the horror of 39 lashes on five separate occasions, the dude who was beaten with rods three times and stoned once (2 Cor. 11:24–25), need to appeal to God repeatedly for deliverance?

Paul’s thorn—this built-in weakness—was substantial enough to accomplish three effects in his life.

1. God used Paul’s weakness to restrain him.

God used the suffering to keep Paul grounded in his self-assessment, to guide the direction and destination of his delight. Have you noticed that God does the same thing for us? He’ll send a thorn to some area of our life where, absent the thorn, our pride and self-elation would wreck us. Paul could’ve been puffed up by his visit to the third heaven, but with that great blessing, God sent great pain.

With great honor came great weakness.

Friends, we don’t roll through life as little gods. We’re not omniscient, omnipotent, or omnicompetent. Sure, sometimes we imagine ourselves elevated to that place, but then God pulls us back to earth by an experience of weakness. Maybe it’s a damaged fender, an overdrawn bank account, a failed test, a prodigal child, or the onset of depression.

For me it includes the fact that I’ve traveled for years with a back pillow because of lower-back arthritis. But God reminds us there is a plan for these routine weaknesses. The world’s obsolescence, and the places this fallenness touches us, restrains our pride as we learn to depend on Jesus.

2. God used weakness to convert Paul’s boasting.

I’ve known a lot of guys who begin marriage with a cocky, know-it-all bravado. I was one of them. In my thinking as a single guy, marriage as a brand was taking a serious hit and needed some fresh blood to reverse the image-problem. It’s funny, though. When we’re strong—or think we’re strong—we can easily slip into boasting. It’s easy to talk about ourselves, to slip into self-satisfied conceit, or the more Christianized version found in the harmless “humblebrag.”

At multiple points in his life, Paul confessed his temptation to boast in his own credentials (Phil. 2:4–6), his own gifting (1 Cor. 14:18), and his own spiritual experiences (1 Cor. 12:5–6). But God used suffering to show him how all these things must be counted as nothing for the sake of knowing Christ. Instead of boasting in himself, Paul learned to boast in the Lord alone (1 Cor. 1:26–31).

Over the last decade, God has repeatedly placed Kimm and me in situations where the only way forward was through dependent prayer to him. As we bow our hearts, it becomes a necessary reminder of our need for him and dependence on him. In that place of weakness, God often brings strength.

Paul tells us, “If I must boast, I will boast in the things that show my weakness” (2 Cor. 11:30). Why would he boast in his weakness? This brings us to the final effect God accomplishes through Paul’s suffering.

 3. In his weakness, Paul encountered God’s grace and power.

It’s been humbling for me to realize it, but God does his best work when his power inhabits the places where we acknowledge our limits, our inabilities, and our true need for him. God doesn’t condemn us for our weakness. Instead, he’s decided to make our limitations—those patches of our human obsolescence—the very place where his strength prevails. He has a game plan that will ultimately confound the scholars and exalt the lowly: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27).

Paul boasted in his weakness because he knows that’s where God shows up and shows out. In the weak place we see God’s power at work. The Creator designs the flaw that will produce the weakness. Planned, but providential, obsolescence.

His Power and Glory, Not Ours

Funny, but I actually left harbor on the good ship Matrimony assuming my weaknesses would diminish as my marriage grew. And sure, knowing one another better and sharing love and pain provided a strong foundation to build many memories and weather some big storms.

But the truth is, even something as wonderful as marriage can remain difficult, because God has a built-in design that’s about more than eliminating our weakness. God wants to display his power and glory, not ours. And the stage for that spotlight is often those places of weakness that produce built-in dependence. So, take the hand of your spouse and say along with Paul: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Hmm, weak is strong.  In life, in marriage, and in the process of change. That’s quite a plan.

Dave Harvey (DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary) is president of Great Commission Collective, a church planting ministry in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. Dave pastored for 34 years, and travels widely across networks and denominations as a conference speaker. He is the author of When Sinners Say “I Do” (Shepherd Press, 2007), Am I Called? (Crossway, 2012) and his most recent book, I Still Do: Growing Closer and Stronger Through Life’s Defining Moments (Baker, 2020). Dave and his wife, Kimm live in southwest Florida. He also writes at Rev Dave Harvey, and you can follow him on Twitter.

Daily Light -May 11, 2020

Obedience Will Make You Miserable’

The Tired Lie Satan Loves to Tell

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

There are at least two ways to please the devil when it comes to the pursuit of holiness. The first way, of course, is to run from holiness altogether — to flee, with the prodigal, to the far country of this world, away from the Father’s home (Luke 15:11–13). The second way, perhaps even more dangerous than the first, is to pursue holiness (or what we imagine holiness to be), and yet not be happy about it.

We may call this second way older-brother Christianity. Like the elder son in Jesus’s parable, such people follow the Father’s rules with a sigh (Luke 15:29). Their holiness is all pursed lips and sober glances. “Such is the cost of righteousness,” they remind themselves. “We must relinquish pleasure on the path to heaven, you know. Holiness, not happiness, is the true good.”

“What virtue!” some may exclaim. “What uprightness! What self-denial!”

What a sham. Older brothers, for all their outward purity, are still in the grip of the serpent’s ancient lie. They have been deceived, along with our first parents, to live in a world of the devil’s own making: a world where our Father wears a frown, where heaven has no laughter, and where holiness is ultimately a sacrifice. As long as we live in such a world, we will miss the feast that our Father has prepared (Luke 15:22–28).

If we want to rid ourselves of older-brother instincts, and pursue holiness in a way that shames the devil, we would do well to return to the garden and listen again to that first lie.

Song of the Morning Stars

When the serpent approached Adam and Eve in the garden, he knew that only a lie could put the forbidden fruit into their hands. Only a lie could somehow convince them that they were the slaves of a stingy God. Only a lie could do the trick because reality, as always, was not on Satan’s side.

For when God first breathed the oceans into being, and lit the stars like candles, and filled mountain fields with wildflowers, no sigh could be heard in all heaven and earth. Rather, all creation joined to praise their glorious Maker. From heaven’s lofty balconies, the morning stars raised their song, the sons of God shouted for joy, and Wisdom delighted in God’s handiwork (Job 38:7Proverbs 8:30–31).

From “Let there be light” onward, the heavens have declared his glory (Psalm 19:1). And how shall we hear their declaration? As an apathetic exhale? As a monotonous lecture? As a distracted recitation? No, as the very pitch of delight: “You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy” (Psalm 65:8).

Adam and Eve, upon hearing the melody of creation, could not help but join the song. As they gazed across God’s handiwork, they trusted the goodness of their Father. They admired the beauty of their Creator. They enjoyed the fellowship of their Friend. They obeyed the counsel of their King. They had no higher happiness.

Life in the Serpent’s World

No, the devil knew Adam and Eve would never eat the fruit as long as they worshiped the glorious God in his marvelous world. So what did he do?

He invited the couple to imagine a different world and a different god. He shuttered their eyes to sunsets and tulips, blocked their ears to the chirping of the robins, and calloused their skin to spring breezes. In short, he shrunk creation to the size of an apple, and gave them eyes for Eden’s only “No.” In the world of the serpent, the morning stars sing a dirge, the hosts of heaven murmur, and creation only groans beneath the dictatorship of the Almighty Ruler.

In such a world, Adam and Eve had only two options. They could, like the prodigal, disobey their God and run from their Father’s garden. Or they could, like the older brother, sacrifice their pleasure on the noble altar of obedience. “Either rebel and be happy — or obey and be miserable.” This was the serpent’s offer (Genesis 3:4–5).

Adam and Eve took the fruit and fled into the far country. Many today do the same. Many others, however, refuse the fruit — but only on the serpent’s terms. Like older brothers, we aim to keep our Father’s rules. We do so, however, not because his rules are satisfying, but only because they’re right; not because holiness is glorious, but only because it’s obedient; not because fellowship with God is happifying (as Jonathan Edwards used to say), but just because he says so.

Which brother we become matters little to the devil. As long as we live within his world — a world where the gifts are scarce and the God is stingy — he is happy whether we rebel or “obey.” As long as we cease to hear and sing creation’s song of praise, the serpent is pleased.

Deeper Than Self-Denial

If humanity’s first sin arose when we believed the serpent’s lie, then our repentance must go deeper than rule-keeping or self-denial. After all, some of this world’s most marvelous rule-keepers are still tenants in the serpent’s world. No, our repentance requires more: we must break free from his spell altogether, and return to the real God in the real world.

We must bend our ears upward once again to hear the heavens sing, “Glory!” We must feel again that heaven and earth, though fallen now, still pulse with God’s pleasure (Psalm 104:31). We must wade again in this delicious stream called creation, remembering that God himself is the fountain (James 1:17). In other words, we must step past the ancient lie and believe once again that God created us to be happy in him.

As soon as we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), and that he himself is our “exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4), everything about our pursuit of holiness will change. We will still deny ourselves, practice obedience, and kill our sin, to be sure. But we will not dare for a moment to think that we are exchanging happiness for holiness.

We will trade away our sin because we have seen the treasure to be found (Matthew 13:44). We will forsake the lusts of our flesh because, as Jesus promised, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). And even when we must sacrifice something precious to follow Christ, we trust that we will “receive a hundredfold now in this time . . . and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:30).

The Holy Spirit teaches us not only to obey God, but to enjoy him — indeed, to obey him by enjoying him. He teaches us not only to withstand the devil’s temptations, but as Martin Luther put it, to laugh our adversary to scorn. He teaches us not only to wonder at the mercy of Christ, but to breathe a grand sigh of relief, amazed that joy has been so near at hand all this time. Discipline does not defeat the devil — happiness does.

Join the Father’s Feast

From where we stand now, of course, we can look to more than creation to see the happiness of God, and to nurture our happiness in him. We now have seen wonders that the morning stars could never have imagined.

We have seen a God so happy that he could bear up under a world of sorrows without breaking (Isaiah 53:3). A God who recognized the joy set before him so luminously that he could endure the darkest shame (Hebrews 12:2). A God who runs to meet his prodigal children, too delighted to be dignified (Luke 15:20). A God who even now holds out his own joy to every older brother who will come out from the cold and join the celebration (Luke 15:31–32).

Come now, older brother, put up your ear to the door. Can you hear the saints’ laughter? Can you hear the angels’ praise? Can you hear the Father singing over his children who’ve returned?

Whatever we must forsake to walk inside this door, there is always more ahead of us than what we leave behind. So go ahead: Turn again to that serpent in the darkness, and laugh his bruised head to scorn. And then open up the door, and join your Father’s feast.

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live with their son in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – May 8, 2020

How Can I Receive Christ?

From an Interview with John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12).

 But what exactly does it mean to “have the Son of God”? How do we come into possession of Jesus? If we don’t possess him, we remain dead in our sins. So this is one of the most important questions in the universe. The answer was expounded by John Piper in a 1985 sermon. The following clip is also one of the rare examples of Pastor John drawing out metaphors from a contemporary movie, a movie titled ‘A Passage to India’ (1984), a celebrated film nominated for eleven Academy Awards. So again, what does it mean to “have the Son of God”? Here’s Pastor John.

In the film A Passage to India, there was an Indian doctor who was arrested by the British colonial powers and thrown in jail under the alleged claim that he had assaulted a British woman. The case becomes an extraordinarily tense point of conflict between the people of India, who want to be free from the British rule, and the British colonial powers, who were ruling very insensitively over the Indian people. And the whole colonialist power structure seemed to make the doctor’s case utterly hopeless — in jail, no advocate, no money, and they were going to get his flesh.

Deliverance for the Underdog

However, the most famous and able lawyer in India gets word of this. He has a reputation for liking to take on the British and for standing up for the Indian underdogs. And for me, one of the most powerful scenes in that movie was where two friends of the doctor come to him in jail. He is utterly dejected and frightened. He has no way out, and he is surrounded by wolves. But their faces are bright; they have good news. They come to him and say, “This lawyer is willing to come and try your case and stand in for you.” And his face doesn’t lift. Then they say, “And he won’t take a fee!” And that transforms the man. Now the doctor has a lawyer. He has a lawyer. The lawyer’s thing will now be done for this doctor. All his eloquence, all his skill, all his reputation will be funneled in one channel: liberate this doctor.

How did the doctor come to have a lawyer? He was broke. He was miles away from this lawyer. They didn’t even know each other. And all of a sudden, he can declare to all of his British enemies, “I have a lawyer.” How’d that happen? Well, it started with the motive of the lawyer. This lawyer is interested in two things: the liberation of India from the British and the magnification of his skill on behalf of underdogs.

Now, I don’t know if you remember, but another scene that I loved was in the courtroom where there was utter pandemonium. It was chaos. And this lawyer was sitting there, laid back in his chair, utterly composed, as though to communicate sovereign control over this situation. What that lawyer wanted to communicate, in the little role he played in that movie, was, “I magnify my skill by not accepting pay for my services, because that might compromise my allegiances. I’m for the liberation of India, and I’m for the exaltation of my own skill on behalf of underdog patriots. I don’t give a rip about your money.”

Services Not for Sale

And so it is with the Son of God. How does it come about that you can say, “I have the Son of God?” Well, it starts with the motive of your divine lawyer and advocate. He has two things that he’s after in this world: one is the liberation of his people from sin and death, and the other is the glorification of his power and his skill on behalf of underdog people. That’s the origin of salvation. That’s the source of eternal life. He loves to show that he loves the liberation of his people and the magnification of his skill. And therefore, his services are not for sale. You can’t buy Jesus. So, how do you come to have the Son of God? He makes you a free offer, and you accept the offer and trust it. The doctor trusted the lawyer, and the lawyer was willing to stand in for the doctor.

Of course, there are at least three ways you can reject the offer of the lawyer. He could have done it in the movie. We could do it to Jesus this morning. You could say, “I can handle this case by myself. I don’t need a lawyer.” You could say, “I am a nobody. He’s a world-class attorney. He will not come. There’s no point in responding to the telegram. There’s no point in putting trust in him. He ain’t going to come. Why would he bother with me?” Or you could say, “Sure, I’ll trust him, let him come. But he better not tell me to do anything stupid in the courtroom, because I’m not going to do it.”

Three Wrong Responses

There are people here this morning who need to have the Son of God. And you can have the Son of God if you won’t use any of those three escape devices. So let me just show you why you shouldn’t use those three.

1. ‘I can make it on my own.’

First, don’t say, “I can handle this case by myself. I can handle my life by myself.” I was talking to a man the other day who was dealing with a man who had cancer and trying to witness to him in the hospital, and the man said, “I can handle this by myself.” None of us can handle our cases by ourselves. John Melin, who passed away yesterday at eight o’clock in the morning, couldn’t handle his own case. That’s why he believed in Jesus.

If you don’t have an advocate, if you don’t have the Son, it’s over. You’ll stay in that jail or go to the gallows — period. You can’t handle life on your own, no matter how strong you feel right now. You see, that poor guy was innocent, and he was about done for. We’re guilty, and we are done for. Our advocate better be a lot better off than the one in the movie, because he’s got to pull off a miracle, because we are guilty and the Judge is just.

2. ‘I’m just a nobody.’

Second, don’t say to yourself, “I’m a nobody. He’ll never come. Why would he bother with me? I mean, I’ve committed so many sins. I failed so many times. He is a world-class God. There is no reason why he would bother with somebody like me.” Now, the reason you shouldn’t say that is not because you’re not a nobody, but because you don’t understand grace. Jesus Christ speaks like this: he says to you, “I don’t come to you because you’re somebody; I come to you because I’m somebody, and I like to glorify my somebody-ness by helping nobodies like you. So quit thinking you’ve got to measure up. The only people I help are nobodies. If you think you’re somebody, you don’t qualify.”

The good news, people, is the lower you have gone, the better candidate Jesus thinks you are, because he can congratulate himself or magnify himself in the world by pulling off the most amazing trial upset imaginable. If you’re not very guilty, any lawyer can handle that. So, let’s put that one aside. Sure, you’re a nobody. That’s the point, and he’s ready.

3. ‘I’ll take the help, but won’t return any trust.’

And third, don’t say, “Well, sure, I’ll trust him. I’ll take the offer. Let him come. He just better not tell me to do anything stupid in the courtroom, because I ain’t going to do it.” Brothers and sisters, that is not trust. You can’t keep a lawyer that way. Maybe one time you could say it to the lawyer, but you say it to his face two times, “I don’t take your advice; I got a better idea,” he’ll say, “You get another lawyer.”

Brothers and sisters, don’t evade the summons to trust by just going halfway and saying, “Sure, I’ll take the bail, but not the advice.” You’re not trusting him if you say that.

So I close this morning by simply holding out to you the free offer that comes from this world-class Son of God, who can stand in for you and will stand in for anybody who trusts him. He who has the Son has life, and you can have the Son if you trust the Son.

Hard to find a better illustration of Christ magnifying himself in the salvation of sinners, and all for their shared joy. Great stuff. This excerpt is taken from Pastor John’s sermon from June 9, 1985. It’s titled He Who Has the Son Has Life,” and you can find the entire thing online at desiringGod.org.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.

Daily Light – May 7, 2020

Find a Purpose as Big as God’s

Learning from the Life of Christ

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

No one lived quite like Jesus. Ordinary as he looked, and was in many ways — with “no form or majesty” (Isaiah 53:2) to turn heads — his earthly life as a whole surpassed every other human life, not only his contemporaries but all others before and since. In the final tally, Jesus stands alone. No other human has left such a deep and enduring impression on the world, and he did so in only three years of active public life.

He turned water into wine. He multiplied loaves and fish. He gave sight to the blind. He even raised the dead. But he also taught with a peculiar, unmatched authority. His words carried weight like no other human voice. “They were astonished at his teaching” (Mark 1:22). “All the people were hanging on his words” (Luke 19:48). Even those who opposed him had to recognize, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46). And still today we marvel at what he says.

What was it that drove such a life and such timeless teaching? Why did Jesus live? What got him up in the morning and motivated him to open his mouth, even under great duress? What was the goal — and in the end, the effect — of his life, so far as we can discern?

We Christians believe that Christ is not only truly God but also truly and profoundly man — so might his human life give us some fresh glimpses into what also should animate our lives, as fellow humans? Recognizing his uniqueness as divine, what might Jesus’s own words and deeds reveal about our highest calling as God’s creatures and Christ’s brothers? Might his singular purpose in all he did shed fresh light on one of the most important questions we can ask, Why did God make me?

Why Did Jesus Do?

The Scriptures are not unclear as to why God created the world, and each of us: to display his glory. From the creation of man in his image (Genesis 1:27), to sin as falling short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and exchanging his glory for created things (Romans 1:23), to the apostolic call that we “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), Christian pastors and teachers often rightly emphasize “the glory of God” as the great banner flying over our lives, connecting us, in our smallness, to the bigness of God’s chief purpose in creation and history.

However, plain as it may be in the Bible, how many of us rehearse this enough? How easy it can be in the habits and patterns of our daily lives to go days, even weeks — perhaps months? — without praying, “Father, glorify yourself in me,” or consciously connect the smallest acts of our lives, our eating and drinking, and everything we do, to the glory of God.

But what about the human life of Jesus, who is also God? Did “the glory of God” really animate him in all he did, and if so, might some glimpses of it in his life renew this great calling in us? Once we pose the question, we might find the Gospels have more to say than we thought.

The Effect of His Life

Not only do the angels declare “Glory to God” in announcing Jesus’s birth (Luke 2:14), but as he begins to teach and minister publicly, the reported effect, again and again, is not that the people praised Jesus, but that they glorified God. The pattern is pronounced.

He heals the paralytic, who “rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God” (Mark 2:12). As Matthew tells it, “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8). Luke makes explicit that it was both the healed paralytic who glorified God (Luke 5:25) as well as the crowd (Luke 5:26).

In fact, glorifying God is Matthew’s summary effect of all Jesus’s miracle-working: “The crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:31). And when Jesus restores sight to a blind beggar, Luke tells us both the man and the crowd directed their praises to God: “Immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God” (Luke 18:43). And there are still others (e.g. Luke 7:1613:1317:15–16).

The Gospel writers make the effect of Jesus’s ministry plain: the glory and praise of God.

The Intent of His Life

But what about Jesus’s intent? What does Christ himself say about his goal in all he did?

The words of Jesus in the Gospel of John make this particularly plain. The human Christ says he comes not in his own name but his Father’s (John 5:43). He welcomes the Palm Sunday praises of Psalm 118: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13). He says, in sum, about his life, “I honor my Father” (John 8:49), and he does all he does in his Father’s name (John 10:25).

Fittingly, then, when teaching his disciples to pray, his first utterance expresses his primary mission in life: “Father, hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2Matthew 6:9).

The Intent of His Death

When he came to his final days, in those precious last moments before his crucifixion, his purpose in life grew all the more explicit as he strode toward death.

Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. (John 12:27–28)

On the night before he died, in his great High Priestly Prayer, he scarcely could have been more clear about what had driven him in life, and now led him even to the cross. Three times he rings the bell with piercing clarity:

“I glorified you on earth.” (John 17:4)

“I have manifested your name.” (John 17:6)

“I made known to them your name.” (John 17:26)

Jesus dedicated his life to glorifying his Father, through making him known to his disciples. He so lived, and so spoke, that his Father would be truly revealed and duly received.

Then, as Jesus departs, his disciples receive the mantle: to make him known to the world. The life of the God-man has made known the glory of God to man. Now the lives of his people will make him known to the world.

From beginning to end, without veil or apology, Jesus sought his Father’s glory. This was both the goal and effect of his life, and death. So much so that even a Roman soldier who witnessed his execution got the message: “when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God” (Luke 23:47).

Our Call as His People

Yet Jesus not only modeled our highest calling. He also explicitly draws his people into this pursuit with him. Not only does he seek his Father’s glory, but he calls his disciples to do the same:

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

Now, in Christ, we his church fulfill our created intent in the image of God by displaying his value in the world. Christ lived utterly dedicated to the glory of his Father, and now we live dedicated to God’s glory — and do so in the name of Jesus (Colossians 3:17).

Jesus, as the ultimate human, and very “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), modeled for us what we were created to be and do — to display God’s glory and make him known. We now find our highest human calling to display and reflect God’s glory by becoming increasingly conformed to the God-man’s image (Romans 8:29). The original destiny of humanity is realized in the gospel and our growing likeness to Jesus. The more we are conformed to Christ, and winsomely display him to his world, the more we fulfill that great purpose for which we were made.

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

Daily Light – May 6, 2020

THE GREAT STORY OF SACRED SCRIPTURE

Article by Dirk Jongkind, academic vice principal and senior research fellow in New Testament text and language at Tyndale House, Cambridge. He is also the author of An Introduction to the Greek New Testament.)

(Con’t) Part 2:

Stewards of the Gospel Story

The four Gospels teach us about Jesus: what he said, what he did, what he taught. Each of the Gospels helps us also to see the significance of the One who died and rose again. Matthew does this openly by explaining how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. John teaches the eternal and divine truth about the Word who came down from heaven and returned to the Father. Mark shows the depth of Jesus’s obedience by not even mentioning the name Jesus as he is mocked, stripped, spit upon, and crucified (Mark 15:16–33), until his final moments and last words (Mark 15:34). The Gospels teach us about Jesus, but told from after the resurrection (John 2:22), from after the moment that the witnesses had received the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who enabled the apostles to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8), and who reminded them of everything Jesus had said (John 14:26). The apostles had two powerful impulses at their disposal: the Spirit-sharpened memory of Jesus’s teaching and the Spirit-taught understanding of the existing Scriptures (Luke 24:44–45).

In the time immediately after Pentecost, the apostles started their teaching ministry (see Acts 4:25:214211:2615:3518:1128:31). There are some differences but also some similarities with how the old covenant started. At Pentecost, there was a loud sound (Acts 2:2), as in Exodus 19, but this time it did not strike fear into the hearts of the listeners. There were also flames, not on top of the mountain but on the gathered believers. The words of the law, the first covenant, were inscribed on stone tablets. But, just as Jeremiah 31:33 foretold, the new covenant was written directly on the hearts of people. The primary place of God’s word was now internal, written on hearts by the Spirit.

So what was happening to the teachings and events recorded in the Gospels between Pentecost and their writing down? When were the Gospels written? Scripture is not silent about this time, but we have to read carefully. In short, the apostles taught the content of the Gospels, the life and ministry of Jesus. And this teaching was remembered and shared among the churches. Therefore, initially the main source for knowledge of Jesus was found in the oral teaching of the apostles, rather than in a written record of this teaching.

We find a good example of this in 1 Corinthians 11. At the beginning of this chapter, Paul commends the church in Corinth for maintaining “the traditions just as I delivered them to you” (1 Corinthians 11:2). Both the words tradition and to deliver have the same root in Greek, having everything to do with handing down. Paul comes back to this language a little later: “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you” (1 Corinthians 11:23). The words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper are a “tradition” that Paul received and had taught to the Corinthians. Later, these words would be written down almost word for word in Luke’s Gospel.

In fact, Luke at the beginning of his Gospel tells Theophilus that his book is “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us” (Luke 1:2). The resemblance to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:2 is striking.

There are other references to the teaching of Jesus in 1 Corinthians. That Greeks seek wisdom and Jews seek signs goes at least partly back to Jesus’s words later written down in Mark 8:12. Jesus’s teaching about divorce is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7:10–11, distinguished from the apostolic teaching in the next verse. That is, there was no explicit teaching of Jesus on the situation described in 1 Corinthians 7:12, and the Corinthians should not think that there was some saying they had missed somehow. And elsewhere in the New Testament, it pays off to read the letter of James side by side with the Sermon on the Mount. The similarities are clear, and it is not difficult to see how James’s teaching has started out from the words of Jesus himself.

Tradition Becomes Scripture

The apostles had a special ministry and authority. The traditions they had taught and the letters they had written, combined with their physical presence, contained all the guidance the churches needed. However, apostles would not be around forever (John 21:22–23), and they were faced with the question of whether the traditions they had taught would be remembered “just as they had delivered them.” In 2 Peter 1:15, Peter shares that this consideration was a real concern. This brings us to the closing stages of the formation of the New Testament, the writing down of the Gospels.

Luke knew about many others who had attempted to write a Gospel (Luke 1:1). Likewise, John wrote his testimony down after having preached its content for a long time. He had the benefit of looking back and being able to select those parts of the story that are sufficient for a saving knowledge of Jesus (John 20:30–31). For each of the four Gospels, the church retained the tradition of how they were linked to apostolic authority, directly (Matthew, John) or indirectly (Mark to Peter, Luke to Paul).

Entry into the new covenant remained an inward work, the word of God written on hearts by the Holy Spirit, yet the written accounts of Jesus’s life and ministry, and the teaching of how his salvation shapes the life of his people, were now entrusted to paper and ink — sometimes almost reluctantly (2 John 12), yet ultimately in the expectation that the apostolic writings were sufficient to make our joy complete (1 John 1:4).

This transition from remembered traditions to written accounts is reflected in Paul’s letters. As we have seen, Paul praises the Corinthians for keeping the traditions as he had delivered them. Later, however, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul introduces a double citation with the phrase “for the Scripture says.” The first of these, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” comes from Deuteronomy 25:4. The second citation from Scripture is “the laborer deserves his wages.” These exact words are found only in Luke 10:7, with a less exact parallel in Matthew 10:10. Therefore, by the time 1 Timothy was written, the Gospel tradition as written down by Luke was used — and approved — by Paul as being Scripture. (Alternatively, it is possible to read “for the Scripture says” as covering only the first of the two citations. But this reading is somewhat forced; the most natural reading is to apply the phrase to both citations.)

The implications of 1 Timothy 5:18 and its use of Luke are considerable. Just as in 1 Corinthians 11, again we have a link between the preaching of Paul and Luke’s Gospel. Moreover, though Paul must have taught the content of Luke 10:7 as part of the “Jesus tradition,” he decides to appeal to the written form, the Gospel, and by doing so Paul signals that there has been a transition from the remembered tradition to the written form. Scripture now includes the gospel and is part of all Scripture that is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). Also, the use of Luke in 1 Timothy seems to indicate that the Gospels were written earlier rather than later, and mostly before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.

Scripture Copied and Translated

When the time of the apostles was over, scriptural revelation was also complete. Because of the wide acknowledgement that the apostles, brothers of Jesus (James, Jude; see also 1 Corinthians 9:4), and those who recorded their teaching were a special gift to the church, their writings were rightly accepted as the word of God, in the same way the Old Testament was. There are some indications that certain memories from the time of the preaching of the first generation lasted well into the second half of the second century, but more and more the writings of the New Testament became the sole authoritative link to the apostles. In the absence of special revelation, our knowledge of what happened in the transmission of the New Testament text after its completion can only be inferred from the surviving manuscript evidence and from what is said by church fathers.

Some things had changed in comparison to the situation under the old covenant. No longer was there a central sanctuary. The apostles may have formed the figurative pillars of the spiritual temple that is the church, yet after their passing away there was no authoritative central location that could function in the way the temple in Jerusalem did. Jerusalem functioned as the center where approved copies of the Scriptures could be obtained (compare Acts 7:27–28). Yet the early church was spread out all over the Roman Empire and beyond, and everywhere the Scripture was copied. It is telling that in these early centuries no church claimed to have an original letter or Gospel in their possession, even though it is clear such originals must have been sent at some point.

Comparing Manuscripts

Printed Bibles have been in existence for a little over five hundred years. For the preceding centuries (1,400 years for the New Testament, and much longer for the Old), the original Hebrew and Greek were copied by hand. For those who are used to a printing culture, the idea that a copy is not necessarily identical to the original is somewhat disturbing. Yet for the early church, this was part of everyday reality. We have examples from every century of church fathers who discussed the difference in wording that existed between manuscripts.

It is important to distinguish between the transmission of the text of the Hebrew Old Testament and that of the Greek New Testament. Quite early on in church history, the main text used for the Old Testament was a Greek or Latin translation (or further translations made from these versions). The transmission of the Hebrew text was carried out in rabbinic circles. The Masoretic text of the Middle Ages reflects the text preserved in the temple in great detail and accurately records not only how the text was pronounced but also differences that existed between the major scrolls kept in the temple before its destruction.

As we have seen, the Greek New Testament does not go back to a temple text or to a single, central location. And manuscripts of the New Testament differ in their wording of the text. Sometimes these are big differences, sometimes small. Already in the late second century, the church father Irenaeus discussed the issue of some manuscripts of Revelation giving the number of the beast as 616 instead of 666. These discussions give us insight into how the problem of differences in wording was dealt with at the time. One important argument for Irenaeus was that 666 was used in the “oldest and approved” manuscripts (even though “oldest” could not mean more than 100–120 years or so). The term “approved” suggests that, already by the end of the second century, some places or some churches were in possession of manuscripts that functioned as normative. But most of these normative manuscripts have perished, either because of age or violent destruction. So what sort of manuscript do we have left?

There are about four hundred manuscripts that come from before the big transition in Greek writing from individual capital letters to a joined-up cursive script in the ninth century (majuscule script and minuscule script, respectively). The majority of these manuscripts are incomplete or even fragmentary. The three manuscripts that are often dated to the second century are all single fragments from a single page from one of the Gospels. We would need hundreds of these to form one complete book. However, we do have manuscripts that are more extensive, and from the fourth and fifth century we even have manuscripts that have a near-complete New Testament in Greek. What we learn from these manuscripts is that in the early centuries the copies were not always made very carefully, to the extent that sometimes one wonders if some of these were written from memory rather than copied from an existing master copy. What we also learn is that the vast majority of differences are easily resolved because they are obvious errors. The more difficult problems require deeper consideration.

Here it helps that we have so many manuscripts, because now we can look for the type of thing that can go wrong (and likewise the type of error that is rarely made). So it is much more common to make the wording of one Gospel similar to that of another, than to do the reverse. For example, Luke tends to abbreviate citations from the Old Testament, while Matthew gives the longer version. As a result, later manuscripts of Luke often have expanded citations that resemble the longer versions found in Matthew. The King James Version is based on such later manuscripts, so its longer wording in Luke 4:45, and 8 (compared to, for example, the ESV) is all due to influence from Matthew.

The discussions of church fathers of some of textual differences shows that most of the important differences have been talked about over the last sixteen or seventeen centuries. It also shows that the existence of such differences was never a reason to give up trust in the Scriptures.

Evaluating Variants

There seems to be a tension between God preserving his word and the existence of differences between manuscripts. How can we trust our English Bibles if they are the result of comparing the manuscripts that have, in places, a different wording of Scripture?

First, the existence of textual variants often makes little or no difference to the wider meaning of the text. For example, in Romans 1:1, there is a question whether Paul wrote “a servant of Jesus Christ” or “a servant of Christ Jesus.” If someone specializes in particular details of Paul’s language, he or she may be very much interested in solving the problem. Yet on a wider scale, say if we look at Romans 1:1–7 as a whole, the issue has no effect on our understanding of what is going on. In general, this is true of all communication. We can cope with noise in the room and still understand perfectly well what our conversation partner is saying.

Second, of all the textual variants in existence, the vast majority can be resolved with relative ease. It is clear how the error came into being and also why it managed to survive in the textual transmission.

Translating the Word of God

The final step in that long journey from the moment that God inspired his word to us reading his word is that of translation. Translation is not easy. One language (English, for example) tends to use grammar and syntax differently than Hebrew or Greek, which are also quite different languages from one another. It is good to realize that any translation has made choices as to which features of the original to represent and which to leave out. For example, it is traditional to represent the Greek name Iakobos (the Greek form of the Old Testament name Jacob) with James, and as a result we lose something of the feel of this name (Iakobos writes his letter “to the 12 tribes” [James 1:1]!).

Also on a sentence level a translator needs to make difficult choices. How we do present the focus of a sentence in Greek into English, which uses different techniques to show which part of the sentence is prominent? How do we represent the repetition of the same word but used in different shades of meaning? To what extent is the translation intended to be understood the first time of hearing, and to what extent do we expect the reader to make considerable effort to dig deeper into the text? And how do we present some of the bigger issues in the different manuscripts? Do we simply ignore them and choose one text to translate, or do we add the occasional footnote? Translations have to make difficult choices, and different translations make different choices.

How can we trust our translations if a single translation cannot give us the full glory of the original? We may fall into the trap of thinking that because we do not have all the knowledge and insight into what God exactly said, we have nothing at all.

Yet we should not be sucked into such a false opposition. It is important to distinguish carefully between two different words: being accurate and being exhaustive. For example, if we look at a map that gives us only the capital cities of each state, we can learn a lot. This map can be of great benefit in learning the lay of the land. It is accurate, but not exhaustive; there is more to tell. We need a map with more information when we are planning a car journey, also accurate but with more information. And think also of the different map we need when preparing for a long hike; a road map will not get us very far. Each of these maps is accurate, but each also gives a different level of detail.

A good translation will render the Scriptures in the original language accurately into English, and will therefore be the word of God, able to teach, to rebuke, to correct, to build the church up. But the level of detail will be different from translation to translation, and will again be different when we read Scripture in the original languages.

For almost all purposes, our translations give us all that we need to study God’s words and to meet him in his word. Yet it is good to know that many of our pastors and other scholars are also reading Scripture in Greek and Hebrew, as it helps them to understand God’s word more precisely. It is as if they are zooming in with a higher magnification and resolution. As we have seen, sometimes the circumstances prevent us from zooming in as far as we would like. This happens when there are some remaining problems in the wording of the Greek and Hebrew originals. We can see the lay of the land, but the fine detail is less clear. But again, these textual problems are mostly small, and none of them influences what Scripture teaches as a whole.

The Word About the Word

The story of how the Bible came into being is largely told in the Bible itself. Perhaps we would like to know things that are not revealed. There are limitations to our knowledge. Yet the Bible is God’s revelation that tells us in great detail about the whole of salvation history, about the coming of the Messiah and his death and resurrection, and about the great hope of glory that is revealed in the Word who became flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ. And this word is fully trustworthy.  (end of article)