Response to Dr. Mark Jones’ “Charleston: Forgiveness Without Repentance,” REFORMATION21.ORG”

Reply to an article posted: .

I basically agree with Dr. Mark Jones on the main points he is making, but I find his distinction between forgiving guilt and harm, and assertion that one can only sin against God to be a bit artificial, lacking in clear biblical support (e.g. Gen 42:22, 1 Sam 19:4, 5, Mat 18:21-35). That said on the main points, including the upright and loving way to respond to these grieving victims, I am in full agreement.

This topic of forgiving others who have not expressed repentance is one of the very few on which the late Rev. Charles G. Dennison (my former pastor) and I (once) disagreed, and on which he never persuaded me. He believed that we need not forgive others until they express repentance. I believed and still do that we must forgive others asap, not waiting for express repentance.

The verse Dr. Jones supplied at the end of his article, Mark 11:25, is clear enough on this to prove, to my thinking. Matthew 6, Jesus’ teaching on piety in the kingdom, clinches it. The Lord’s Prayer has a textual difference between the so called Alexandrian text form (NASB/NIV/ESV/NRSV) and the TR&Majority text (KJV/NKJV):

KJV: And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

NAU: And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

The difference is the tense of the verb, forgive: present (KJV) vs. perfect (NASB, etc.). The word rendered “as” by both translations, hos, means, ‘as’, ‘in the same way as’, or ‘in such a way as’ (Fribergs) or ‘according as’ (Liddell and Scott). It introduces an adverbial clause in such a way that the clause modifies the imperatival petition, ‘forgive [us]’. In other words, the petitioner is seeking to be forgiven in the same way as he has (already) forgiven his debtors (NASB) or in the same way as he (habitually) forgives his debtors (KJV) – presumably all of his debtors!

If the former is the correct textual reading, then every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer or every time we pray according to its pattern, seeking forgiveness, we are affirming to God that we have already (nuance of the perfect tense) forgiven (all of ) our debtors. If we have not really forgiven them, then we should not expect real forgiveness from God, since we are seeking the same sort of forgiveness that we have already bestowed upon others.

If the latter reading is correct, in the end there is little difference, since we are seeking the same sort of forgiveness that we habitually bestow upon those who have sinned against us. The result is perhaps not quite as clear as in the reading assumed by the NASB, but the difference is not substantial.

Whichever reading one takes, Jesus dots the ‘I’ and crosses the ‘T’ a few verses later when, harking back to this verse by means of the conjunction, ‘for’, He warns:

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

To find wiggle room in this warning, one must read it in. Jesus places no condition on, “if you do not forgive others …”  Those who hold to the other interpretation must read in something such as, “… when they repent.” This is a precarious act. There is nothing in the verse, much less in the preceding context to which ‘for’ refers, to justify such eisegesis.  Matthew was written well before Luke.  Luke would presuppose his readers knowledge of Matthew, but not vice-verse.

My understanding of Gal 6:1-2 also requires this understanding, since I believe that the reference to the Law of Christ, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ,” is to forgiving ahead of time (“bearing the sin as He bore ours”), before going to bring the miscreant to repentance.

The Luke passage, as written, is consistent with Matthew 6, as written, since it is talking about how to respond to the brother who sins against you over and over (even in the same day) and comes to you verbalizing repentance – something, humanly speaking, bordering on the irrational.  Rigorously speaking, “if he repents forgive him,” does not necessarily implicate, “if he does not repent, do not forgive him.”  Mat 6 and Gal 6 are teaching fundamentally about our heart’s posture, irrespective of whether or not we have yet spoken to the offender since the offense was committed. Luke is not setting forth necessary conditions for us to forgive in our hearts, but is emphasizing the limitless nature of the forgiveness we must offer to others. After all we certainly need such limitless forgiveness from God.

I join Dr. Jones in commending the godly, loving, Christlike response of the surviving Christian relatives of the nine martyrs of the Charleston massacre.

Posted in Ethics, Gospels, Gospels and Paul, Matthean Priority, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

ラウワ家家庭礼拝やキリスト教教育の育て方Lauer Family Worship and Catechetical Practices (Japanese only)

この記事は改革派デボションの雑誌にありました。This article was published in the  RCJ Devotional Magazine, REJOICE.

「 私がきょう、あなたに命じるこれらのことばを、あなたの心に刻みなさい。これをあなたの子どもたちによく教え込みなさい。あなたが家にすわっているときも、道を歩くときも、寝るときも、起きるときも、これを唱えなさい。これをしるしとしてあなたの手に結びつけ、記章として額の上に置きなさい。これをあなたの家の門柱と門に書きしるしなさい。」 (申命記6:6-9)






その後、家内は朝ごはんを作りに行ってから私自身は子供達に別々、暗礁聖句や教理問答書を練習させます。OPC/PCA印刷会社(Great Commission Publications)が発行している「Bible Memory Workbook」の中身をベースとしてそれぞの聖書の個所や初歩教理問答、小教理問答、大教理問答を、覚えるように努力致します。彼らは、日本語も習いますが、一日置きに日本語と英語をします。食事が出来上がると、教育の時間が終わります。日曜日の午後、時間があれば小教理問答書の大復讐の時間を持ちます。子供は、みな高校を卒業する前、小教理問答書の全てを習いましたが、早い子は、大教理の一部も暗記しました。晩御飯の後にもう一度、聖書を朗読する時間を致します。もし朝、旧約聖書を読んだら、夕飯後に、新約聖書を読みます。 毎日、上記のパターンを完成する訳ではないのですが、しばしばその通り行なって参りました。いつも努力致します。




Posted in Christian Childrearing, Family Worship | Leave a comment

Translating the Bible Into Japanese, New Horizons October, 2010

Translating the Bible into Japanese

Click above for the New Horizons article

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The Church and Her New Testament — a Sermon on 1 Corinthians 3:5-4:6

“The Church and Her New Testament”

Reformation Day, 2013. Calvary OPC, Harrisville

According to Melanchthon, one of Luther’s close followers, often considered his successor, Luther “wrote theses on indulgences and posted them on the church of All Saints on 31 October 1517.” This event is often considered the start of the Protestant Reformation.

We are just 4 years away from the 500th anniversary of that blessed event. Most of us who have studied both the history of the Reformation and the Bible itself, give thanks for both and wholeheartedly embrace the return to the Bible that Luther, Calvin and others – by God’s grace – brought about.

Nevertheless, in recent years there have been a number of cases where Protestants reverted to the Roman church. Among famous men one might mention G.K. Chesterton and Richard Neuhaus. Closer to home Scott Hahn who served a W.Pa. congregation ministering to its youth, converted to RC and took with him several youths from OP churches in the area. He published a book about his conversion that has been influential across the USA in leading many others back to Rome.   A bit later there was a graduate of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary who was under care of our presbytery, who left the OPC and converted to Catholicism.

Speaking personally, I should mention a room-mate of mine in college named, Bob. He was a fellow member of the First Presbyterian Church in Schenectady, NY – which is now a PCA church. For a while, both of us pursued the ministry, and both of us attended Westminster Theological Seminary in Phila. Later, Bob converted to the RCC.

While he was at WTS, Bob pursued what he considered was a crucial question in the historical dispute between Rome and the Reformation. Although perhaps oversimplifying just a bit, we might frame that issue by means of this question: Did the church create its New Testament, or did the New Testament create the church?

Another approach to essentially the same question would be this: Why do we accept our NT as the infallible Word of God? The answer Rome gives is this: “because in church history, the church determined that the books that now make up our NT belong there.” In other words, according to Rome, as a matter of church history, the church was responsible for the makeup of the NT as we have it today. By the church, Rome means not the church led by the Apostles in the 1st century, but the church during the 2nd through 4th centuries.

The RCC view is that by the end of the period of the Apostles, that is, roughly by the end of the 1st century, the various churches of the Roman Empire owned, respected, and utilized a variety of documents purporting to be from the Apostles, or their recognized coworkers such as Luke and Mark. In the second century, especially with the rise of some books that were clearly late and heretical, it became necessary for the church to judge which writings it deemed to be the Word of God, versus those which it did not. During that period from the 2nd to the 4th centuries, the church fathers record a series of debates about the suitability of certain disputed books. Church councils ultimately rejected some of those disputed, but accepted others.

It certainly appeared to Bob that it was the church that had determined the NT. To have an infallible NT, therefore, the church, too, would have to have been infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit – not simply the Apostolic church, but the church of the 2,3,4th centuries. If such infallibility for the church must have existed then, then why not today? It is a small step from there to the present day doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope when he is said to speak, “ex cathedra,” i.e. from ‘his (purported) throne’ as ruler over the church.

On the other hand is the Protestant position; its answer to the question as to, Why do we accept our NT, such as it is, as the infallible Word of God?, is perhaps best expressed by the Westminster Confession’s chapter 1, paragraphs 2 and 4: Immediately after listing the books of our NT, the confession says this about those books: “All which are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life.”

They are canonical; those books and none others are in our Bible, because God inspired them. The confession continues in paragraph 4 do deny the RCC view that the church’s determination is the basis for the authority of our canon OT or NT: “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it as the Word of God.”

So why do we accept our NT? The OPC, with the churches of the Reformation replies: not because of the church’s decision, but solely “because it is the Word of God.” God himself is not only the author of the Scriptures, but it is He who is responsible for the NT as we have it today. The makeup of the NT does not depend upon “the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God.”

My college roommate, Bob, and too many others like him, have been unwilling or unable to accept our position, countering instead that church history shows our NT in fact to have been dependent not merely upon Apostolic authorship, but also upon the determination of the councils of the later church.

Today [=2013], as we stand just four years shy of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we examine a heretofore poorly understood verse that virtually proves the RCC view to be contrary to the NT itself.

Today the focus of our attention will be on the last verse of our passage, 1 Corinthians 4:6. Previously, we read from the New American Standard Bible. Sadly, it is a poor translation of this key verse. You should have a copy of several other translations of this verse. Please look at that page.

Let me read the translation near the bottom of the handout, the translation I prepared.

 Lauer’s Translation

Brothers, I have figuratively applied these things to myself and Apollos for you, in order that in us you may learn [to keep] the [rule], “Nothing beyond what stands written,” in order that none of you be puffed up for one against the other.

We will not spend time on the details of this corrected translation. Suffice it to say that the spurious infinitive [fronein = ‘to think’] reflected in the KJV’s translation led the church from the fourth through the 18th centuries to fail to recognize that Paul is here quoting a saying. Toward the end of the 19th century Bible students began to realize the mistake in the most common NT text and slowly began to realize that Paul here quotes some sort of saying.

The newer translations such as those near the bottom of the handout, have incorporated this realization into their translations, but none of the older ones, including the ESV which is generally the same as the much older RSV, recognize this newly rediscovered fact.

The saying was in fact a rule that Paul had previously taught the Corinthians and to which he now wants to persuade them to adhere. Why? Let’s look more closely at this verse itself, and think about it in the light of the situation Paul faced at Corinth. First, let us consider the background.

You may recall the in the 1st chapter Paul had rebuked the Corinthians for factions that had arisen in the church, factions that disturbed the unity of the church. In 1:10-12 Paul writes,

 10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.

11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you.

12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”

These factions each advanced its own message, its own purported wisdom, and did so in the name of a famous early church leader, such as Peter, Paul or Apollos, or perhaps even Christ Himself.

Paul knew the claim was false, and so rebuked them all. Further, Paul could see that these factions were threatening the heart of the church itself, its commitment to a right understanding of the cross of Christ Himself. For in 1:17 Paul goes on to write, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.”

The various man-made forms of wisdom being promoted by these factions actually threatened to “make void the cross of Christ,” that is Christ and Him crucified, as Peter, Paul and Apollos all preached.

After contrasting God’s wisdom, the Gospel, Christ and Him crucified, with all such man-made wisdom, in chapter 2 of this letter, Paul returns to the heart of his concern: the integrity of the Gospel foundation as it had been laid by himself and Apollos during the first several years of the church at Corinth.

Beginning in 1 Cor 3:5, Paul creates a metaphor from farming in order to describe the initial church planting that Apollos and he had done, “I planted; Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” This metaphor paints a picture of both of these men as responsible for the foundation of the church at Corinth – to grow, a seed must both be planted and watered.

In v 9, Paul finishes the parable about the church as God’s farm field, and shifts to one about the church as God’s temple building project. Look again at v 9: “We are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” Beginning here in v 9, Paul shifts the metaphor to construction of God’s building. Or, as he explains later in vv 16-17, to construction of God’s temple. They, the church are God’s house, his temple.

The future of the Corinthian church was seriously in jeopardy, so Paul warns in vv 16-17:

 16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

 But how was it in jeopardy? What precisely was the peril? Whom does Paul fear might destroy God’s temple, the church, and how? The answer must be sought back in vv 10-11:

10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.

11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

 Here Paul warns those building after himself and Apollos, that is, the current ministers of the church at Corinth. He cautions them to minister – in terms of the metaphor to build – carefully. Why? Verse 11 answers why: “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

The human wisdom being promoted by the leaders of the factions in the name of Paul, Apollos and the others were threatening the very gospel foundation which Paul and Apollos had laid. Should they succeed in supplanting the foundation with something which is no foundation at all, they would destroy the church, the very temple of God.

Again, in vv 16-17, Paul warns them sharply of the grave consequences if that should happen:

16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

 With this understanding of the circumstances, that is, the danger then present in the church in Corinth, we return to the focus of our attention, to the translation of 4:6 I have offered:

Lauer’s Translation

Brothers, I have figuratively applied these things to myself and Apollos for you, in order that in us you may learn [to keep] the [rule], “Nothing beyond what stands written,” in order that none of you be puffed up for one against the other.

Here in the first part of the verse Paul tells us what he has just done in the two metaphors of chapter 3, and he tells us why he did so.

When he writes, “I have figuratively applied these things to myself and Apollos for you,” he is describing the two metaphors. He has figuratively applied “these things”, i.e. things from agriculture and things from building construction, to himself and Apollos.

He then explains why he did so. That is, he then tells us what was his goal in crafting the two metaphors:  The goal of the two metaphors is certainly to protect the gospel foundation of the church from dangerous teachers, but here he explains just how that is to happen; he reminds them of the prophylactic he had previously prescribed against that pernicious malady.

In short, the successors of Paul and Apollos to the Corinthian pulpit must learn to obey, to keep the rule of which he then reminds them: “Nothing beyond what stands written.” This is a rule Paul had imposed upon those to whom he had entrusted the ministry at Corinth as he departed about 4 years earlier.

When Paul as an Apostle preached the Gospel, he did so from memory, what he, like the other apostles, had learned from the Lord Himself. As Apostles, they had been authorized, official spokesmen for the Lord. According to John 14-16, they were promised special anointing by the Holy Spirit so as to accurately recall all that the Lord Himself had taught.

However, the Apostles did not allow others to likewise preach Christ from memory, that is, from what they had learned by oral tradition. Thus, very early in the life of the Apostolic churches, the Apostle Matthew had prepared a document, one which was recognized by the other Apostles as accurate, as reliable. Although the Apostles each preached the gospel from memory and thus established churches built upon the true foundation, they did not leave those churches to be nurtured by non-apostolic teachers relying on memory and oral tradition. Rather, from the very earliest days of the church, they charged their successors with the saying, the rule that Paul had likewise imposed at Corinth: “Nothing beyond what stands written.” That is to say, “as you teach and preach, you must rely solely upon the recognized Gospel for the content of your message about Christ, and him crucified.”

At Corinth, the leadership of that church had abandoned that rule. It had begun to rely rather on oral traditions ostensibly derived from the Apostles. Paul knew that such traditions were in fact unreliable. As we see going into chapters 5 and 6, those delinquent teachers were wreaking havoc in the church, endangering its very existence as Christ’s church.

That Gospel writing which Paul had imposed upon the Corinthian teachers was already the NT of the church at that time. To be sure, more would come over time, just as the prophets and other writings had been added to the OT to supplement the Law of Moses, given at the start.

Nevertheless, the church had a canon, a NT, from its very earliest days. It was created and imposed on the church not by fallible later ministers and elders, but by the Lord through his own directly empowered apostles. The canon of the NT of the early church was indeed determined by Christ, through the ministry of his Spirit at work as promised in his authorized Apostles.

Rome is grievously wrong in its pretentious claim that the post-apostolic church is responsible for the NT. She is mistaken in her assertion that we accept the NT canon on the basis of the testimony of the later church. The church is the product of the Bible, including the NT; the NT is not the product of the church, but of Christ Himself, through his uniquely empowered Apostles. The evidence is clear in this once obscure verse.

In the 2nd century and beyond, the church had to defend its apostolically imposed canon against various heresies that challenged it and sought to add to it, but the church never formed or determined the content or the extent of the NT, much less of the OT.

People of God we need to be prepared to answer Rome on this key question. If we are not, the Scott Hahns of Rome will continue to draw our young people to itself, and away from the only infallible God-given rule of faith and life.

Posted in Canonics, NT Canon | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Letter to the Editor of New Horizons re. Birth Control

The text below (with very minor corrections) was originally submitted to Tom Tyson, editor of New Horizons magazine in the late 1990s, during an ongoing debate about the legitimacy of birth control use for Christians. He later published it as an article, with revisions.

To the Editor:
With a certain trepidation, I enter into the recent debate about the propriety of birth control; it is among the most emotionally charged issues confronting young married Orthodox Presbyterian Church members today. The decision to use or not use birth control is likely to have a major impact on their lives. Many older members, from whom they would naturally seek counsel, long ago took a decision which is now, due to the process of aging, if nothing else, irreversible. For these brethren what is at stake is nothing less than a judgment about their fidelity to the Lord in this matter over a period approaching 25 years of their lives: have they treated their legacy for the Kingdom of God in the next generation as the equivalent of a Japanese bonsai tree?
On the other hand, those committed to using birth control for responsible parenting view the technology as a means of furthering the Kingdom of God by helping families produce a godly posterity without impoverishing themselves and failing to provide for their children’s welfare and for the church’s ministry. They may see a categorical rejection of such technology as similar to joining the Amish in rejecting electricity.
I believe that a firmer argument is to be made for the biblical case for unbridled procreation by Christian families than has been made on these pages in recent months. Obviously, there is not room here for an airtight case with rigorous biblical exegesis; I will try to highlight and further develop some points which may have previously been touched on.
First, the rejection of a specific technology as unethical does not equal an Amish attitude. Few members of the OPC, I trust, would argue that the development of RU-486 (abortion pill) means that we should be open to its use to enhance our service to the Lord. If birth control were directly forbidden by God’s (prohibitive) command, or if God gives us a positive command prolifically to bear children, then birth control is not a “matter of Christian liberty,” rather it is wrong.
Second, our church’s understanding of the unity of Scripture (OT & NT) fundamentally requires us to see both halves of Scripture as setting forth “what duties God requires of man.” (WSC#3; Cf. #2) Paul’s Bible in, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (II Tim. 3:16-17), includes at least the OT. The question of the ceremonial and civil laws notwithstanding, the fundamental position of our Lord, his apostles, and our secondary standards is that the Old Testament’s commands are binding upon uspart of the “duty which God requires of man.”
Third, and more specifically, the New Testament demonstrates a founational role in ethical thinking for the creation order. This is most prominently seen in our Lord’s dealing with the Jewish testing about divorce, where he appeals to creation: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.” and “He who created them from the beginning.” (Mat. 19:8,4) In Matthew 5, Jesus is using the creation’s marriage order to focus his interpretation of the seventh commandment so that one could say that in ethics, the creation order is for him more fundamental than the decalogue (Cf. WLC#92). Elsewhere, too, the NT shows a tendency to go back to ‘pre-fall basics’ on various questions: male-female relations (I Cor. 11:8-9; I Tim. 2:13), the Sabbath (Mark 2:28; Heb. 4:4—see Dr. Gaffin’s article in Pressing Toward the Mark) and the propriety of eating various foods (I Tim. 4:4, Cf. Gen. 1:28-31). That certainly does not mean that the coming of the kingdom equals a return to the Garden of Eden—that the Sabbath was made for man means that the Son of Man (heir of Adam) is now Lord of the Sabbath. The NT recognizes in the Kingdom of Christ a fulfilment of the creation order that far surpasses the original (see esp. I Cor. 15:45ff.), yet the pristine creation order is seen as providing a normative theological-ethical foundation for the new kingdom, primarily because of its role as the original, unflawed and perhaps most comprehensive type of the consummation order. The Mosaic Law, while not flawed, is typological by means of its function as the constitution of an earthly and hard-hearted nation. Moses’s “permitting [divorce] because of the hardness of your hearts” was not possible in the creation so long as God’s pronouncement, “very good,” remained true. In the Kingdom of Heaven, as in its original prototype, it is not permitted at all. Thus, if our primary and secondary standards teach the abiding and binding character of both testaments, nowhere in the Old Testament should one expect to find this more true than in the precepts established in Genesis 1 & 2. Thus, with the NT, our presupposition must be that the creation order is indeed normative for the Kingdom of Christ.

Fourth, a fundamental precept of creation, repeated in the Noahic Covenant, is the positive command to be prolific in bearing children: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth!” (Gen. 1:27 & Gen. 9:1) This command sets forth man’s original purpose on earth. That it is a command, disobedience to which God considers a serious offense, is seen in the rebellion of Noah’s offspring at Babel. The stated purpose of mankind in building the tower is: “otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” That it was a failure to spread out and fill the earth, rather than to fruitful and multiply, which brought God’s judgment does not alter the fact that God prosecuted mankind for covenantal rebellion against a commandment which also includes the order to reproduce—fruitfully. Thus, abundant reproduction is not only a blessing (Psalm 127:5), but a fundamental God-appointed duty, a creation ordinance. Deliberate deeds to inhibit this portion of the command, “be fruitful and multiply,” must be seen as ethically identical to the deed contrived by mankind to inhibit the other part of the command, “fill the earth.” (It should be noted that even if one rejects the interpretation of Babel as primarily rebellion against this command, the command still stands as a fundamental duty in creation.)

Fifth, The counterargument that Genesis does not specify maximum fruitfulness and so man is free to define (=limit) what it means in accord with his wisdom is bad exegesis which utilizes an anachronistic hermeneutic. Sound biblical interpretation requires that we first look at the words of this command in its original contexts, Genesis 1 & 8. In the first passage, birth control technology was certainly not present, and I would hate to have to read a case for its presence with Noah on the Ark. Thus, in its original contexts, the command to fruitfulness would have to have been read as a command to marry and vigorously pursue conjugal relations. “For this cause a man shall leave. . . and cleave to his wife,” is then a more specific and focused form of the same command to fruitfulness (Cf. I Cor. 6:16). With abstinence (apart from the infertile periods and times of prayer) clearly in conflict with later Scripture, in the original context of the command, Adam’s and Noah’s sons must be understood as commanded to marry and to be most fruitful. To simply transfer the words of the divine command to our technological context where birth control is possible and read the lack of a modifier such as ‘utterly’ before the word fruitful as implying warrant to do anything less than zealously seek to fill the earth with a righteous seed, is an anachronism.
Even if the tower of Babel had been successful, man’s great city would have continued to grow and spread out, but very slowly (unless he also discovered birth control). The sin was that man wilfully used his new technology (brick making) to place an impediment and hinder the fulfillment of God’s command. Our use of new technology to hinder fruitfulness is similarly rebellion.
Some have seen in the Law’s code on the practice of conjugal relations a rule designed to maximize the procreation of children and so fill the promised land quickly. The Law was a shadow of Christ’s kingdom, but does that not imply that in the reality of Christ’s world-wide kingdom a similar urgency exists? The proper contextual reading of the imperative, “be fruitful,” is to “be fruitful as possible.”
Sixth, nothing in the New Testament changes this command to be fruitful and multiply. We have already seen that the New Testament’s approach to the creation order is to return to it for pristine norms for the pattern of the Kingdom. The Great Commission complements the command to be fruitful and fill the earth by adding, as it were, a second dimension to the kingdom expansion. Now the kingdom grows not only by our families being fruitful, multiplying and filling the earth with a ‘godly seed’, but by new families and individuals become godly seed through baptism and preaching. This principle is presupposed in our presbyterian interpretation of the development of the Abrahamic promise in Acts 2:38-39 (Cf. I Cor. 7:14). Thus, until the full number of the elect, of Abraham’s innumerable seed, has been produced—by either means, both commands remain in force. Christians must see the use of birth control (including abstinence except for prayer) to limit the size of the family as against the command of God and as contrary to the purpose of the church on earth as it would be for her to limit the numbers of unbelievers permitted to be present to hear the word of God. None would hear an excuse such as, we can’t disciple more than two converts per month, as anything more than attempting to overthrow the wisdom of God by the wisdom of men. The use of birth control to limit the number of children God gives us to a ‘manageable’ number is a similar use of human wisdom.
Seventh and last, the New Testament not only lacks any indication that the command to be fruitful is abolished, it also gives positive indications that the command is still in force. Despite our Lord’s assertion that singleness for the Kingdom of God (Mat. 19) can be a means of serving the Lord (and the apostle’s similar statement I Cor. 7), the apostle still sees the woman’s creation role as child-bearer (I Tim. 2:15; Cf. Gen. 2:18ff. & Gen. 3:16) as her norm, and thus he commands young widows to “to get married” and “to bear children” (I Tim. 5:14). By implication the man, too, is still covered by the general norm, “it is not good for the man to be alone,” which led to the creation of the female enabling him to begin to fulfill the creation mandate.
In conclusion, the use of birth control to limit the number of children that God gives to a Christian family stands in opposition to the fundamental order and command of God which remains binding so long as this age endures. While this does not deal with the most difficult cases (E.g. Dr. warns that your wife will die if she bears another child), it does mean that all human wisdom such as family-economics or arguments based upon supposed scientific study of the ecology of the earth are irrelevant. ‘Planned Parenthood’-thinking was not born in heaven. Like the cross, the Christian couple’s duty to be fruitful may be ‘foolishness before the wisdom of men’ but it is God’s wisdom, and like the cross itself, it will prevail and be vindicated in the end. Those who have practiced birth-control heretofore should stop; those who are older and whose wives have passed menopause should teach the younger families to reject the wisdom of this world in favor of the wisdom of God. May the Lord give each family in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church a full quiver, and may we reject the notion that the existence of technology gives us the prerogative to help determine how many arrows constitutes full-fledged fruitfulness. And, may we not fail to raise each one in the fear and the admonition of the Lord!

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John Calvin, the Nascent Sabbatarian: A Reconsideration of Calvin’s View of Two Key Sabbath-Issues

My article, “John Calvin, the Nascent Sabbatarian: A Reconsideration of Calvin’s View of Two Key Sabbath-Issues” is now available to download as a pdf file at:

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Critique of selected portions of David Instone-Brewer’s Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, and Divorce and Remmariage in the Church.

Critique of Writings on Divorce by David Instone-Brewer
1. Divorce and Remarriage in the Church (DRC)
2. Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (DRB)

This appraisal of David Instone-Brewer’s two works on divorce is by no means intended to be comprehensive. I have read only parts of both volumes, but I have read enough to be seriously suspect that Brewer’s scholarship is unreliable and his exegetical and theological approach (hermeneutics) for determining the will of God regarding divorce in the NT age is not consonant with the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). The weaknesses appear to go a long way to explaining his counter-confessional conclusion that there are “four biblical grounds for divorce” (DRC, p 93) (the WCF recognizes only two: 24.6).

I. Evidence of poor scholarship, be it intentional or unintentional:
(a) DRB p 1:
“Marriage is called a ‘covenant’ (berith) throughout the Pentateuch and the rest of the Old Testament.”
Problem: neither in the paragraph this sentence introduces nor in the footnote attached to this sentence is there so much as a single citation of the Pentateuch, even though the paragraph discusses several later OT prophetic verses and the footnote refers readers to eight verses from elsewhere in the OT, ranging from Proverbs to Malachi. At best, this is misleading. (This is only DRB’s first page.)

(b) DRB p 10:
“There are, therefore, clear parallels between the stipulations for marriage contracts in the Pentateuch and ancient Near Eastern sources, though in both the amount of extant material is limited.”
Problem: Brewer identified not a single marriage contract (or even a marriage covenant) anywhere in the Pentateuch. The only purported “clear parallel” is not between a Pentateuchal contract and an ancient Near Eastern (ANE) one, but between the statute about female slave liberation and ANE contracts. If he considers that to constitute a Pentateuchal “marriage contract,” his rational remains opaque. (See also II.b, below.)
(c) DRB p 14:
“These documents show various parallels with the Old Testament, both in the Pentateuch and beyond.”
Problem: The only example he offers of a parallel between the Pentateuch and the three pages of treatment of ANE documents is as follows: “The phrase ‘Cut yourself off from any other man’ may find a parallel in Genesis 2:24: ‘separate from his father and mother, and cleave to his wife.’” However, it is hard to see (and Brewer makes no attempt to explain) how this could be called a parallel. The ANE wording is from a marriage contract promising that the woman marrying will stay away from other men, while the Pentateuchal language decrees that a man marrying will leave his parents home. No other Pentateuchal examples are offered. As to the significance of the Gen 2:24 wording, see II.c, below.

(d) DRB p 9:
“All of the ancient Near Eastern law codes that have rulings about adultery prescribe capital punishment. … The capital punishment was applied to the man or woman or both, depending on who was considered to be guilty. It is not certain whether this punishment was compulsory. For example, the Code of Hammurabi #129 suggests that the king could pardon a wife at the husband’s request:
If the wife of a seignior has been caught while lying with another man, they shall bind them and throw them into the water. If the husband of the woman wishes to spare his wife, then the king in turn may spare his subject. [citation from Pritchard, ANE Texts]
This does not diminish the seriousness with which adultery was regarded. The fact that the king had to pardon her suggests that adultery was considered a crime against the state, not just against the marriage partner.”
Problem: Brewer seems to have misread the Code #129. He must have ignored the phrase, “in turn.” The term, “his subject,” is best taken as the male adulterer, one of the king’s subjects. Thus, both the wife and he are to be executed unless, the husband, the (only) one considered the victim, determines that he wants to forgive her. He, as the victim, is free to do so, however, should he decide to spare her, the king may then spare his subject, also, i.e. the man who violated the husband’s wife. So long as the husband punishes his wife for the offense against himself, the king has the legal duty to punish his subject for the offense against the husband. Thus, Brewer’s interpretation is wrong, and the conclusion he draws (“adultery was considered a crime against the state, not just against the marriage partner.”) is groundless.

(e) DRB p 18:
“The Sinai treaty of God with Israel contained a long section of blessings and curses (Deuteronomy 27-28), and it was understood that God did indeed bring these curses on Israel when they disobeyed.”
Problem: According to Deuteronomy, it was a covenant made by God with Israel on the plains of Moab almost 40 years after – according to Exodus – He made the initial covenant with her at Sinai.

(f) DRB p 19:
This chapter has shown that marriage in the Pentateuch is a contract between two families and between two individuals.”
Chapter one of DRB did not even come close to supporting this conclusion. It showed marriage contracts as agreements between such parties with respect to some (other) ANE texts, but not once with respect to the Pentateuch. It simply assumed similar marriage culture for the Pentateuch, merely assuming what it hereby claims to have demonstrated.

II. Evidence of non-confessional hermeneutics
(a) DRB p 7:
“Deuteronomy 24:1-4 … is an item of case law about a man who wanted to remarry a wife whom he had divorced, and who had been married again in the meantime. The ruling states that she would now be unclean for him. The reason for this ruling has been traced by Raymond Westbrook to the financial payments and penalties involved in marriage and divorce. … Westbrook thus noted that this [remarrying the first man after an intervening marriage] would give the first husband a financial motive for remarrying his wife, because he would then have both her new dowry and her old one. The law therefore forbids the first husband from getting financial benefit in this way.”
Problem: This exegetical conclusion about the purpose of Yahweh in forbidding the man’s return to his former wife is not drawn by rigorous deduction from the text of Scripture (WCF 1.6a) nor from the historic Protestant hermeneutical principle of Scripture interprets Scripture (WCF 1.9); in fact the only reason stated in Scripture itself – and it is stated expressly! – is completely different than the one adduced by Westbrook and adopted (“Deuteronomy 24:1-4 … is an item of case law”) by Brewer, recounting none of Westbrook’s reasoning. On the other hand, we have Scripture’s explanation:
Her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.
(Deut 24:4 NASB)
Those with some background in OT higher critical scholarship will probably recognize in Westbrook the methodology known as form criticism, a ‘tool’ of 20th century higher critical Bible scholarship that goes back to Hermann Gunkel and his 1901 commentary on Genesis. “Using comparative material from the folklore of other peoples, [Gunkel] attempted to analyse and classify the individual stories, and to determine the situations and circumstances in which they had arisen (their Sitz im Leben or ‘life-setting) and in which they had been transmitted”(Whybray, Making of the Pentateuch, 1987, p 133). Since Gunkel, form criticism has evolved and grown, being applied to the Gospels (most famously by Bultmann), and to other purported forms; in the current example, the supposed form is ‘case law’. The notion of case law in the Bible is not in and of itself a problem, but this analysis of Deut 24:1ff is not only pure speculation; it stands contrary to the contextual presentation of the origin of the statute as it comes to us in Deuteronomy.
From an orthodox, confessional standpoint, i.e., taking the text at face value, the ‘Sitz im Leben’ this statute, like that of the other laws comprising Deuteronomy, is obvious: the entirety of the legal corpus of Deuteronomy was given by God, through Moses, on the plains of Moab, just before his death.
Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.
You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?
(Deut 4:1-2,8 NASB)

This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and ordinances. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul.
You have today declared the LORD to be your God, and that you would walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and listen to His voice.
The LORD has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments;
(Deut 26:16-18 NASB; cf. 29:1)
As Geerhardus Vos explains that in Deuteronomy, “Moses speaks here directly as God’s mouthpiece in long discourses to the people. That such is the conception of prophecy, the book states itself (xvii 15, scqq)” (The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes, p 169).
(c) DRB p 16:
“He [G.P. Hugenberger] suggests that there are traces of a marriage covenant formula in the Genesis formulae ‘bone of my bone,’ ‘one flesh,’ and ‘leave their family [sic], all of which indicate the formation of a family covenant.”
Problem: This, too, smacks of form criticism; it is arbitrary and speculative, and it fails to take the text – which reads fine as is – at face value. As G. Wenham opines, “This [Gen 2:24] is not a continuation of the man’s remarks in v 23, but a comment of the narrator, applying the principles of the first marriage to every marriage” (Genesis, vol. 1, WBC, 1987, p 70).

(d) DRB p 9:
“There is a clear parallel to these stipulations in Exodus 21:10-11, which records that a second wife should not be preferred over a first wife even when the first wife was a slave wife. It was generally assumed by the rabbinic interpreters that this right extended to free wives as well as slave wives.”
Problem: The text of Exodus 21:10-11 never refers to the female slave involved as a ‘wife’. Brewer simply assumes this, i.e. it is eisegesis, not exegesis. That he may be following the example of others before him in doing so does not absolve him of error in so doing. The Hebrew is very literally rendered by Young’s Literal Translation, with even the word woman (which in the right context could be rendered ‘wife’) never once appearing in Hebrew (hence Young’s italics):

“If another woman he take for him, her food, her covering, and her habitation, he doth not withdraw; and if these three he do not to her, then she hath gone out for nought, without money.” (YLT)

In fact, “another” could be construed as “another female slave”; this is probably more natural, given that the only female mentioned in the preceding context, the only plausible antecedent for ‘another’ is the (first) female slave.
The context, too, is not about wives, but about slaves, male and female, particularly their manumission (their redemption or liberation is mentioned in each of vv 2,3,4,5,7,8,11). Regarding the context, John Durham explains this part of the Book of the Covenant: “The first extended section [vv 2-11] has to do with the ownership of slaves. Vv 2–11 are a kind of miscellany under the general topic “the treatment of one’s slaves,” with guidance concerning the treatment of both male (vv 2–6) and female (vv 7–11) slaves.” (Exodus, WBC, 2002, p 320). Any relevance for the divorce of a (true) wife (Deut 24) must be proved, not assumed. The closest Brewer comes to doing so, at least in this section (and he does not refer us elsewhere in his book) is in his next sentence, which commences: “It was generally assumed by rabbinic interpreters that this right extended to free wives as well as slave wives” – not really confessionally valid exegesis.
For the church to adopt rabbinic assumptions is hardly orthodox Christian hermeneutics.

(e) DRB p 10:
“A stipulation about cleanliness in Deuteronomy 24:1 does not have any parallel in the ancient Near East. The teaching of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 has traditionally been understood to mean that one could divorce a wife for adultery. However, it is very unlikely that this passage originally referred to adultery because the punishment for adultery was death.”
Problem: Although in view of Brewer’s admission of the incompleteness of our materials from the ANE (see I.b, above) it would seem prudent for him to have qualified his blanket denial, “does not have any parallel,” his reading of the original meaning of the much debated (now and in antiquity) term, ‘ervat davar, is in agreement with John Murray and at least some modern commentaries. No problem so far.
However, even while acknowledging that as it stands in the OT canon, the term does not (“very unlikely”) signify ‘adultery’ on the part of the wife, elsewhere Brewer claims that Jesus, in agreement with the Shammaite rabbis, acknowledges sexual immorality (= adultery) as the (one and only) ground for divorce recognized in 24:1.
“The Gospels imply that he [Jesus] meant adultery was the only valid ground that is found in Deuteronomy 24:1. …
Jesus gives [the Pharisees] their answer, and it is one that they recognize immediately because it was the same as that of the Shammaite Pharisees, who said that here is no valid divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1 ‘except for sexual immorality.’”
(DRC pp 96-97)
In short, Brewer does not believe that in Deut 24:1, by the term, ‘ervat davar, God (and Moses) meant adultery but does believe that 1500 years later the Son of God declared that that is what it means.
Brewer has pitted God (and his OT prophet) over against the Son of God (and the Shammaite Pharisees in the NT), with the two sides disagreeing as to the meaning of the Word of God at one point. The former (God) meant one thing by it, while the latter (the Son) contradicts or corrects him. Clearly from an orthodox perspective, this approach to Scripture is not only unacceptable, it is blasphemous. ASIDE: When we get here should we tear our clothes, or just rip some pages out of Brewer’s books?
Jesting aside, the problem here is not a trivial one. A close look at the framework of Brewer’s argument finding broader grounds for divorces (than adultery/porneia and desertion) shows how critical this piece of impiety is to his sophistry. As normally translated, Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, both chapters 5 and 19, comes across not as taking sides in a rabbinic debate over the import of one verse, but as declaring the will of God, as progressive revelation of the ethics of his new kingdom, not only over against the rabbis of his day, but over against even Moses himself (“Moses permitted, … but”). In 19:6, based on a creation ordinance, the one greater than Moses lays down a firm and clear (3rd person sing.) imperative, “what God has joined together, man must not separate,” against which prohibition He allows but one exception, “except for the cause of sexual immorality.” By reframing the passage so as to have Jesus taking sides in an argument about the right reading for Deut 24:1, Brewer reduces the blast of Jesus’ prohibition from a shotgun pattern that takes out everything save extramarital sexual acts to a rifle shot that eliminates almost nothing from the grounds for divorce that were (according to Brewer) fairly widely practiced by Jews, and sometimes Jewess as well.
The reality is, however, that, as Brewer and others recognize, Deut 24:1 cannot be translated adultery or even sexual immorality, for the Pentateuchal remedy for such sin was indeed death, but in order to construct his argument that Jesus is only rejecting a particular interpretation of 24:1, “for any matter,” Brewer has the audacity to portray Jesus as misinterpreting 24:1 and siding with the mistaken Shammaite reading thereof.
Amazingly, but probably not coincidentally, without explanation Brewer (eventually) translates Jesus’ supposed citation of 24:1 (“sexual immorality” [ adultery]) quite differently in another passage (DRB p 134), subtly helping to bolster his case to limit Jesus’ teaching to one side in an argument about the term in Deut 24:1.
“The main differences between the accounts in Mark and Matthew, as marked in bold throughout this chapter, are the inclusion of the phrases ‘for any matter’ and ‘except for (a matter of ) indecency’ in Matthew.”
(NOTE: I do not have time to prove this, but one key hermeneutical problem here is due in large part to the late 20th century interpretive method known as ‘Reader Response’ (RR) theory of meaning. I.e., the meaning of a text lies in how its readers or hearers understand it rather than ‘Authorial Intent’, how the writer or speaker intended it. [E.g., see the last paragraph of DRC p 60.] There can be some validity to RR theory with regard to purely human words, but when God [the Father, the Son, or the Spirit] speaks, directly or through prophets or apostles, clearly His intent alone must be determinate of true meaning.)

(f) DRB p 133 (and the rest of the chapter 6):
“The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ teaching on divorce are portrayed in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 as a debate with the Pharisees. The concluding statement on the matter is found in Matthew 5:32 and Luke 16:18. The highly abbreviated form of these accounts requires considerable unpacking, which is only possible by knowing what could be omitted because it was ‘obvious’ to a first-century Jew. Fortunately the same subjects are debated in rabbinic literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which use very similar methods of abbreviation.”
Problem: The term “considerable unpacking,” here, is close to a euphemism. For as is suggested by his next line’s “what could be omitted because it was ‘obvious’,” Brewer is going to do a lot more ‘in-packing’ than unpacking. Having reduced the import of the Lord’s imperative from its natural grammatical import – a nearly comprehensive ban on divorce – to an endorsement of certain Pharisee’s interpretation of one verse, he is now going to assume that what he claims are the other allowable grounds for “normal rabbinic divorces,” such as neglect and infertility, were “omitted because it was ‘obvious’ to a first-century Jew.” This is, obviously, only possible to argue because of the reductionistic interpretation of Jesus’ imperative that he has made, since otherwise only one exception is allowed. There are a number of other serious problems that arise, here.
Confessionally speaking, the whole counsel of God is to be discerned first from that which is expressly set down, then from that which may be rigorously deduced from what is set down in Scripture. What is expressly set down is “absolutely no divorce, except for sexual immorality.” Brewer attempts to justify ‘in-packing’ other exceptions by claiming that first century Jews would have naturally assumed other exceptions traditionally improvised, such as from the slave-woman passage in Exodus 21. This, of course, is another reader response hermeneutical argument – a very significant portion of the meaning of the passage is made to come not from what Jesus said, but from what his original audience already thought on the topic, and that even though what Brewer claims must be ‘in-packed’ is on its face contrary to what Jesus actually did express, ‘no divorce, except for the cause of sexual immorality’. This hermeneutic is simply not consonant with the WCF 1.6: it is “[n]either expressly set down in Scripture” nor can it “by good and necessary consequence … be deduced from Scripture.”
However, even laying aside our confessional hermeneutic, the argument, absolutely key to Brewer’s over all position, is untenable. Even from a standpoint friendly to this RR theory of interpretation, by all accounts Mark and Luke were prepared primarily with a Gentile audience in mind. Thus, what “was ‘obvious’ to a first-century Jew” is hardly relevant to rightly reading their accounts. Machen reminds us that “unlike Matthew, Mark was evidently intended primarily, not for Jewish, but for Gentile readers.” As for Luke, similarly Carson and Moo write, “While addressed to a single individual, it is almost certain that Luke had a wider reading public in view. … the wider public Luke addresses probably shared with him a Gentile background. Luke implies such an audience in many ways…” Yet, since the Markan and Lukan accounts of Jesus’ divorce instruction are less detailed than Matthew’s (excluding the porneia exception, which they could assume to be known since Matthew was already long in circulation), in order to interpret Jesus in the accounts of Mark and Luke similarly, Brewer must assume that their authors, too, would have expected their (Gentile) readers and hearers to likewise ‘in-pack’ the divorce ethics of first century Jewish society. This seems utterly unrealistic. The average Gentile reading Jesus’ instructions on divorce in any of the three Gospels would never be able to do “the considerable unpacking” Brewer himself says is necessary since it “is only possible by knowing what could be omitted because it was ‘obvious’ to a first-century Jew.” Even if it were possible for the average Jewish Christian reading Matthew–and I am not prepared to concede that – there is no way Mark could expect his primarily intended readers to even know something had been omitted, much less figure out what that was.
In my opinion exegetical theories that expect even Jewish readers to presuppose the knowledge of deferential respect for Judaistic traditions are highly suspect. Theories that require the similar expectations for Gentile readers are utterly unrealistic, bordering on fantasy. Mark, Luke and 1 Corinthians were primarily written for just such Gentile readers. What the Apostles expected the Gentiles to honor from Judaism was settled in the Acts 15 council. Jewish divorce law was not included. In any event, Brewer fails to show by the standards of WCF 1.6 that his interpretation of Jesus’ words comes by rigorous deduction from the text, even when other passages are considered as well.
In closing, the kind of exegetical approach to the Gospels that Brewer contends their authors (and Paul in 1 Cor, though I didn’t deal with that, above) presuppose their intended readers – all together including all sorts of Jews and Gentiles who have converted – will intuitively perform violates the rule of 1 Corinthians 4:6b. While it was coined (probably not by Paul but by the Jerusalem Apostles) regarding Matthew, it would have, over time, applied also to newly published apostolic Gospels as well. Paul had delivered it to the Corinthians (c. AD 50) and presumably other churches at that time, along with a copy of Matthew. “Nothing beyond what stands written,” meaning: “Teach nothing of the gospel beyond what is written in the scroll provided by the Apostles.” ‘In packing’ various Jewish divorce traditions into ones reading of that scroll, even if they supposedly were derived from Exodus 21, clearly takes one ‘beyond that which is written’. It still does, today.


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