Astrology

Astrology teaches that the position of the planets and stars at the instant a person is born determines personality and even spiritual disposition. It teaches that everything that happens in a person’s life is caused by the position of the planets and stars and that God is not in control of what happens on earth — it is predestined by the position of the planets and stars.

The Bible condemns astrology in no uncertain terms:

Stand now with your enchantments and the multitude of your sorceries, in which you have labored from your youth; perhaps you will be able to profit, perhaps you will prevail. You are wearied in the multitude of your counsels; let now the astrologers, the stargazers, and the monthly prognosticators stand up and save you from what shall come upon you. Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame. (Isaiah 47:12-14)

Some quotes:

‎”The good Christian should be aware of astrologers, and all those who make empty prophecies. The danger already exists that the astrologers have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and to confine man in the bonds of hell.” – Augustine of Hippo

“Esau and Jacob were born of the same father and mother, at the same time, and under the same planets, but their nature was wholly different. You would persuade me that astrology is a true science?” – Martin Luther

The Bible is…

“The Bible is the one Word of the one God about the one way of salvation through the one Savior, Jesus Christ.”

– Graeme Goldsworthy

Myths about Bible Translations and the Transmission of the Text

by Daniel B. Wallace

There’s an old Italian proverb that warns translators about jumping in to the task: “Traduttori? Traditori!” Translation: “Translators? Traitors!” The English proverb, “Something’s always lost in the translation,” is clearly illustrated in this instance. In Italian the two words are virtually identical, both in spelling and pronunciation. They thus involve a play on words. But when translated into other languages, the word-play vanishes. The meaning, on one level, is the same, but on another level it is quite different. Precisely because it is no longer a word-play, the translation doesn’t linger in the mind as much as it does in Italian. There’s always something lost in translation. It’s like saying in French, “don’t eat the fish; it’s poison.” The word ‘fish’ in French is poisson, while the word ‘poison’ is, well, poison. There’s always something lost in translation.

But how much is lost? Here I want to explore five more myths about Bible translation.

Myth 1: The Bible has been translated so many times we can’t possibly get back to the original.

This myth involves a naïve understanding of what Bible translators actually did. It’s as if once they translated the text, they destroyed their exemplar! Sometimes folks think that translators who were following a tradition (such as the KJV and its descendants, the RV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NKJB, NRSV, and ESV) really did not translate at all but just tweaked the English. Or that somehow the manuscripts that the translators used are now lost entirely.

The reality is that we have almost no record of Christians destroying biblical manuscripts throughout the entire history of the Church. And those who translated in a tradition both examined the English and the original tongues. Decent scholars improved on the text as they compared notes and manuscripts. Finally, we still have almost all of the manuscripts that earlier English translators used. And we have many, many more as well. The KJV New Testament, for example, was essentially based on seven Greek manuscripts, dating no earlier than then eleventh century. Today we have about 5800 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, including those that the KJV translators used. And they date as early as the second century. So, as time goes on, we are actually getting closer to the originals, not farther away.

Myth 2: Words in red indicate the exact words spoken by Jesus of Nazareth.

Scholars have for a long time recognized that the Gospel writers shape their narratives, including the sayings of Jesus. A comparison of the Synoptics reveals this on almost every page. Matthew quotes Jesus differently than Mark does who quotes Jesus differently than Luke does. And John’s Jesus speaks significantly differentyly than the Synoptic Jesus does. Just consider the key theme of Jesus’ ministry in the Synoptics: ‘the kingdom of God’ (or, in Matthew’s rendering, often ‘the kingdom of heaven’). Yet this phrase occurs only twice in John, being replaced usually by ‘eternal life.’ (“Kingdom of God” occurs 53 times in the Gospels, only two of which are in John; “kingdom of heaven” occurs 32 times, all in Matthew. “Eternal life” occurs 8 times in the Synoptics, and more than twice as often in John.) The ancient historians were far more concerned to get the gist of what a speaker said than they were to record his exact words. And if Jesus taught mostly, or even occasionally, in Aramaic, since the Gospels are in Greek the words by definition are not exact.

A useful distinction is made between the very words of Jesus and very voice of Jesus, known as ipsissima verba and ipsissima vox, respectively. Only rarely can we say that we have the very words of Jesus, but we can be far more confident that what is recorded in red letters in translations is at least the very voice of Jesus. Again, if ancient historians were not as concerned to get the words exactly right, we should not put them into a modernist straitjacket in which we expect them to be something they were never intended to be.

Myth 3: Heretics have severely corrupted the text.

This myth is usually promoted by King James Only folks who assume that the manuscripts that came from Egypt were terribly corrupted. A more sophisticated approach seeks to demonstrate this in passage after passage. For example, would orthodox scribes begin the quotation of Isaiah 40.3 and Malachi 3.1 in Mark 1.2 with “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet”? The alternative reading, found in the majority of manuscripts, reads “As it is written in the prophets.” But the earliest, most widespread reading is “in Isaiah the prophet.” It looks as though the later scribes were troubled by this attribution and they ‘corrected’ it to be more generic so as to include Malachi.

What is overlooked in the approach that assumes that the earlier manuscripts were corrupted and produced by heretics is the fact that virtually all Gospels manuscripts harmonize. That is, in parallel passages between two or more Gospels, virtually all manuscripts, from time to time, change the wording in one Gospel so that it duplicates the wording in another. Would heretics do this? It represents rather a high view of scripture—or, as Paul said in another context, zeal that is not according to knowledge. Further, the great majority of these harmonizations are either found in isolated manuscripts or in later manuscripts. This tells us that the tendencies of the earliest scribes was to harmonize, but because such harmonizations are done sporadically and in isolation they are easily detected. And later scribes produced their copies in great quantities in a heavily concentrated area, resulting in a more systematic harmonization—again, something that is easily detected.

This finds an apt analogy in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. When the beleaguered hobbits meet the dark stranger, Strider, at the Prancing Pony Inn, they are relieved to learn that he is on their side. He is Aragorn, and he tells them that if he had been their enemy he could have killed them easily.

There was a long silence. At last Frodo spoke with hesitation, “I believed that you were a friend before the letter came,” he said, “or at least I wished to. You have frightened me several times tonight, but never in the way that servants of the Enemy would, or so I imagine. I think one of his spies would—well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand.”

Likewise, the readings of the oldest manuscripts often has a way of making Christians nervous, but in the end it seems fouler but feels fairer.

Myth 4: Orthodox scribes have severely corrupted the text.

This is the opposite of myth #3. It finds its most scholarly affirmation in the writings of Dr. Bart Ehrman, chiefly The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture and Misquoting Jesus. Others have followed in his train, but they have gone far beyond what even he claims. For example, a very popular book among British Muslims (The History of the Qur’anic Text from Revelation to Compilation: a Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments by M. M. Al-Azami) makes this claim:

The Orthodox Church, being the sect which eventually established supremacy over all the others, stood in fervent opposition to various ideas ([a.k.a.] ‘heresies’) which were in circulation. These included Adoptionism (the notion that Jesus was not God, but a man); Docetism (the opposite view, that he was God and not man); and Separationism (that the divine and human elements of Jesus Christ were two separate beings). In each case this sect, the one that would rise to become the Orthodox Church, deliberately corrupted the Scriptures so as to reflect its own theological visions of Christ, while demolishing that of all rival sects.”

This is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. Even Ehrman admitted in the appendix to Misquoting Jesus, “Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.” The extent to which, the reasons for which, and the nature of which the orthodox scribes corrupted the New Testament has been overblown. And the fact that such readings can be detected by comparison with the readings of other ancient manuscripts indicates that the fingerprints of the original text are still to be seen in the extant manuscripts.

Myth 5: The deity of Christ was invented by emperor Constantine.

This myth was heavily promoted in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. He, in turn, based his allegedly true statements (even though the book was a novel, he claimed that it was based on historical facts) on Holy Blood, Holy Grail (by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln). The evidence, in fact, that the deity of Christ is to be found in the original New Testament is overwhelming. A look at some of the early papyri shows this. In passage after passage, the deity of Christ shines through the pages of the New Testament—and in manuscripts that significantly predate Constantine. For example, P66, a papyrus from the late second century, says what every other manuscript in John 1.1 says—“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It predates the Council of Nicea (AD 325), which these skeptics claim is the time when Constantine invented Christ’s divinity, by about 150 years! P46, a papyrus dated to c. AD 200, plainly speaks of Christ’s divinity in Hebrews 1.8. The list could go on and on. Altogether, we have more than fifty Greek New Testament manuscripts that are prior to Constantine’s reign. Not one of them denies the deity of Christ.

To see some of the details that expose these myths, consider the following books:

Rob Bowman and Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ

Ed Komoszewski, James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus

Daniel B. Wallace, editor, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament.

Have you read it?

I can well remember hearing a preacher in the course of his sermon asking a series of questions. His first question was “how many of you believe the Bible is the word of God?”

It was a Christian audience and so all indicated that they did by raising their hands.

Then he asked, “how many of you have read it?”

Many raised their hands once again until he quickly added, “…all of it?”

I could hear audible grumblings around me as many of those with raised hands now slowly lowered them. Some mumbled, “I’ve read most of it”, or “I’ve read all of the New Testament.”

One thing became clear, less than 10% of the audience had actually read the Bible through.

He then asked, “how many of you have read any other book?”

All raised their hands once again.

Then the preacher said, “do you see how inconsistent this is? Here you are, having read other books, but the book you claim to believe is inspired by God Himself, is not something you have read. What does this say about your belief in the Bible?”

The silence that ensued was more than a little uncomfortable.

He went on, “If you sincerely believe the Bible is the word of God, should you not have read it?”

Once again, he paused, allowing for full force of the question to have its intended impact.

Finally, he then said, “Here’s my challenge – start today and read three chapters a day and four on Sundays and by this time next year you will have read the Bible through.”

I am sure there are better methods for reading through the Bible but the preacher’s point is a good one. We as Christians need to be “people of the book.” If there is one book we should read or should have read, it is the Bible. All Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16) and it is unlike any other book out there. Job wrote that he loved God’s law more than his necessary food (23:12). He would rather go without food than miss time with the word of God. Can the same be said about us?

Justin Taylor wrote the following: “I really believe in the value of not just reading, but hearing, God’s Word… In listening to an old lecture recently by J. I. Packer, he made the comment that it was not until after the 17th century (as far as he could tell) that people started doing silent prayers and reading as opposed to praying and reading out loud. For most evangelicals, silence represents the vast majority of our reading and praying. But I wonder if that’s to our detriment. One of the great enemies to Bible reading and praying is a wandering mind—and one of the great ways to make your mind wander is to do everything in your mind without involving your voice and ears! . . . Here’s something else to consider: the entire Bible on audio is usually about 75 hours (or 4500 minutes). If you commute to work 5 days a week, that’s about 260 days a year. And if it takes you, say, 17 minutes to commute each way to work—and if you listen to the Bible on audio during your drive each way—you’ll get through the entire Bible twice in a year.”

There are many good daily Bible reading plans. For those who would like the convenience of an online source there are now many options. New technology allows not only the reading of the Bible, but hearing it too. If you enjoy the ESV here are many different plans to choose from – each of which allow for each daily segment to be sent to your e-mail address or as a podcast.

Sidenote: The REFORMATION STUDY BIBLE in the ESV is available on sale in bonded and genuine leather (in burgundy and black) here. I really love this Study Bible. Its the one I use most in my study and preaching.

Miscellaneous Quotes (59)

God is sovereign over all things or He is not sovereign over anything.

“Now, you need not ask tonight whether you are God’s elect. I ask another question — Do you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? If you do, you are His elect — if you do not, the question is not to be decided by us yet. If you are God’s chosen ones, you will know it by your trusting in Jesus. Simple as that trust is, it is the infallible proof of election! God never sets the brand of faith upon a soul whom Christ had not bought with His blood. And if you believe, all eternity is yours! Your name is in God’s Book, you are a favored one of Heaven, the Divine decrees all point to you — go your way and rejoice!” – C.H. Spurgeon

“Zeal without doctrine is like a sword in the hand of a lunatic.” – John Calvin

“You are not redeemed by a profession of faith but by the possession of faith.” – R.C. Sproul

“Salvation is a work of God to show His glory. That’s why He’s not going to let it fail.” – Paul Washer

“The mightiest prayers are often those drenched with the Word of God.” – Herbert Lockyer

“Some people seem to be afraid lest we should be the means of saving some of the non-elect—but that is a fear which never troubles either my head or my heart, for I know that with all the effort and preaching in the world, we shall never bring more to Christ than Christ has had given to Him by His Father!” – C.H. Spurgeon

“The friends of free will are the enemies of free grace.” – John Trapp

“This is the doctrine that we preach; if a man be saved, all the honor is to be given to Christ; but if a man be lost, all the blame is to be laid upon himself. You will find all true theology summed up in these two short sentences, salvation is all of the grace of God, damnation is all of the will of man.” – C.H. Spurgeon

“The justification of a sinner is instantaneous and complete. . . . It is an all-comprehending act of God. All the sins of a believer, past, present, and future, are pardoned when he is justified. The sum-total of his sin, all of which is before the Divine eye at the instant when God pronounces him a justified person, is blotted out or covered over by one act of God. Consequently, there is no repetition in the Divine mind of the act of justification; as there is no repetition of the atoning death of Christ, upon which it rests.” – William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Volume 2 (New York: Scribner’s, 1891), 545

“The greatest weakness in the church today is that the servants of God keep looking over their shoulder for the approval of men.” – R.C. Sproul

“Peace is such a precious jewel that I would give anything for it but truth.” – Matthew Henry

“A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.” – John Calvin

“The grounds of your justification are the perfect works of Jesus Christ. We’re saved by works, but they’re not our own.” – R.C. Sproul

“If God were small enough to be understood He would not be big enough to be worshipped.” – Evelyn Underhill

“God would remain absolutely hidden if we were not illuminated by the brightness of Christ.” – John Calvin

“The bare knowledge of God’s will is inefficacious, it doth not better the heart. Knowledge alone is like a winter sun, which hath no heat or influence; it doth not warm the affections, or purify the conscience. Judas was a great luminary, he knew God’s will, but he was a traitor.” – Thomas Watson

Merry Christmas

Faith makes all things possible. Hope anchors the soul in the rich and trustworthy promises of God. Love makes all things beautiful. May you have all the three in the Person of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Wishing you a joyful and peaceful Christmas.

The Virgin Birth

“Even though the fact of Jesus’ virgin birth is clearly and concisely stated in Scripture, the unconverted mind of sinful humanity, as with all essential doctrines of the Christian faith, resists embracing the truth of His unique birth… ancient mythologies and world religions counterfeited Christ’s virgin birth with a proliferation of bizarre stories and inaccurate parallels. These stories undercut and minimized the uniqueness and profound impact of our Lord’s birth. Satan has propagated many legends, all with the purpose of undermining the nature of Christ’s birth and deceiving people into seeing it as just another myth or nothing exceptional. But such skeptical thinking is foolish and directly contrary to the explicit teaching of all four Gospels, the Epistles, and the historical testimony of the entire early church that Jesus was none other than the virgin-born Son of God.” – Dr. John MacArthur

In quoting “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14), Doug Wilson writes:

Theological liberals like to point out that the word rendered as virgin here is the Hebrew word almah, which can mean “virgin,” but it can also be legitimately rendered as “young woman.” So then, the thinking goes, “You conservatives ought to think about this a bit harder, and join the rest of us in the 21st century as soon as you are able.” But centuries before Christ, when the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek by Jewish rabbis (70 of them, according to tradition), the Greek word they chose to render this word almah was parthenos—and parthenos means virgin, as in a literal virgin. The famous Parthenon was a temple built in Athens to the virgin goddess Athena. With the use of this word, there is no wiggle room whatsoever.

So this means that centuries before there was any Christian agenda around to influence the story, the expectation among the Greek-speaking Jews (at a minimum) was that a virgin would conceive and bear a son. This is certainly how Matthew takes Isaiah’s words (Matt. 1:23). And Luke records the fact that Mary was a virgin as well (Luke 1:27), and Mary herself objects to the angel’s promise to her on the basis of it (Luke 1:34). So we know that the Bible teaches this doctrine. But why does it matter?

It is not an incidental point — our salvation actually depends on it. In order to serve as a sin sacrifice, the Lord Jesus had to be a true human being, and the Lord Jesus had to be sinless. If Jesus were not truly human, the sacrifice could not have been the work of our representative priest (Heb. 4:15). And if Jesus were not entirely sinless, then like the Levitical priests, he would have had to make an offering for his own sin first. This means Jesus would not have been in a position to die for ours (Heb. 7:27). Jesus could not be the sacrifice for us unless he was a sacrificial victim entirely without blemish (1 Pet. 1:19). And so—for the sake of our salvation—it was necessary to find a man who was a true man, and yet who was without sin.

Where can you get one of those?

So how can God fashion a true human being out of this existing human stock without that “new man” being corrupted? The Bible says that we are objects of wrath by nature (Eph. 2:3). So if Jesus had been born into the human race in accord with the normal, natural process, he would have been an object of wrath also.

So God needed to perform a supernatural act, but perform it with a true man-child. He did this through what we call the virgin birth.

NOT MERELY A RANDOM STORY – The Bible is clear that Jesus had a genuine human lineage, all the way back to Abraham (Matt. 1:1–16), who was himself descended from Adam. But the Bible is equally clear that Jesus never sinned (2 Cor. 5:21). The fact that Jesus was sinless was obviously related to who his Father was (Luke 1:35), but also because of who his Father wasn’t (Luke 3:23). The other sons of Joseph were sinners in need of forgiveness just like the rest of us. For example, James the Lord’s brother tells us to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16), and then he goes on to tell us that Elijah had “a nature like ours,” including himself in this (James 5:17). And earlier in the Gospels, we are even told what one of those sins was, the sin of unbelief (John 7:3–5). Joseph was father of one who became a great and godly man, a pillar in the church, but Joseph was not the father of a sinless man. If Jesus had been born to Joseph and Mary in the ordinary way, he could have been a great apostle—like his half-brother was—but he could not have been our Savior.

While we shouldn’t start speculating about the half-life of original sin, one acceptable answer from all of this is that sin is reckoned or imputed through the male line. This is the position I hold and I believe it’s fitting because Adam was the one who introduced sin into the world in the first place (Rom. 5:12).

THE NECESSARY MIRACLE – Because Jesus did not have an immediate human father, he was not entangled in sin with the rest of us. Because he had a true human mother, he was as human as we are; because he was without sin, he was more fully human than we are. From this we can see that the virgin birth is not just a random miracle story, designed to impress the gullible. It is a miracle, all right, but it is a miracle like the other miracles connected with the person of Jesus Christ. Like the Incarnation itself, this miracle is necessary for the salvation of lost and sinful men.