Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Review


A PLACE CALLED HEAVEN

By Dr. Robert Jeffress [Grand Rapids MI, Baker, 2017].




Robert Jeffress is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas Texas. In recent years he is also known for his political views and as a Fox News contributor. He has written a book that will have universal appeal to all that are curious about heaven. He does so in a very refreshing way, not as an academic, but as a pastor of people. His style is welcoming, speaks to the average person, and is an encouragement to those who read it.

I especially liked his first chapter in which he gives us the benefits of thinking about heaven. Such a focus does 4 things for us here and now: (1) It reminds us of the brevity of our earthly life. (2) Prepares us for the certainty of judgment. (3) Motivates us to live pure lives. (4) It places our suffering in perspective.

He explains that Heaven is not a state of mind, but a sobering reality that each of us must confront one way or another. We all face mortality.

Jeffress asks fundament questions that all of us have. He deals with the subjects concerning heaven head on. This includes near death experiences; at death do we immediately go to heaven; the Old Testament saints’ relationship to Heaven; tries to separate fact from fiction; will we know one another in Heaven; and what we will do in heaven. He also deals with common myths about God and Heaven.

The book is also evangelistic in that he deals with hell and how to enter heaven. It is Scriptural. Upholds the finished work of Christ. It is an enjoyable, reader friendly, reassuring and encouraging to the reader. Well researched.  All who read it will benefit.







Sunday, September 24, 2017

Review of Forgiveness and Justice


FORGIVENESS AND JUSTICE, by Bryan Maier, Grand Rapids MI, Kregel Ministries, 2017


This book endeavors to cut through the maze of views persistent in modern culture about forgiveness and justice and is turning away from the Biblical concept. Maier is an associate professor of Counseling and Psychology at Biblical Seminary, thus more than qualified to deal with the subject. He, therefore, writes from a theological concept of counseling. It seems to be geared toward the profession, rather than the laymen. It is academic in focus and nature.

In regard to forgiveness, he points out that the main models center on the therapeutic. He points out the weakness of this method is that it neglects the theological concept. Its primary focus is on self rather than the spiritual or theological.

The main emphasis of the book centers on the theological concept of forgiveness. It centers around four questions: (1) How Does God Forgive? (2) How Does Healing Relate to Forgiveness? (3) Is Forgiveness Primarily Self-Centered or Other-Centered? (4) Is Forgiveness Active or Passive?

To me, the best part of the book is on modeling God’s forgiveness. Our being able to forgive is based on God’s forgiveness which is rooted in substitutionary atonement. He argues that repentance is necessary for forgiveness. However, he views repentance as the act of turning from sin and says very little as it being a change of mind.

For justice, he features the imprecatory Psalms. While he expresses some concerns with these psalms, he points out they do not deal with revenge, but with the desire for justice which is proper in response to sin. This is my second best chapter.

This book is worthwhile to any person who deals with other people, as well as another one struggling with the need for forgiveness. The pastor should read and think about the subject. In fact, it is essential for the Pastor’s library. It is Biblical sound and deals with the subject on a serious practical level. It is reader-friendly, which will confront the reader on these subjects. It is an informative, practical, clear, and logical presentation. It was personally helpful to clarify my thinking on the subject.


I received this book from Kregel Ministry in return for a review but was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Reflections on Romans #5







The Thanksgiving

Romans 1:8-10

Paul opens this thanksgiving with the word “first.” Most commentators think that Paul had in mind a series, but never got around to or failed to mark the additional points, as there is no second point.[1] I reject this idea. The word means first in time or in order. It also has the sense of “above all.”[2] I believe Paul is drawing our attention to the idea of priority instead of order, The idea of priority fits the context. Lenski catches this idea when he points out “it naturally implies all that follows without a following ‘furthermore’ or is ‘second place’.”[3] It denotes the idea of first of all or priority. His priority in this thanksgiving prayer is to direct it to God the Father. This likely means that the idea of priority is the intent and thought in this context.[4] The giving of thanks is in the present tense, denoting he is in the continual course of giving thanks. Paul is repeatedly giving thanks to God for the presentation of His grace. Likewise, we should give thanks for His grace and goodness to us.

It is “through Jesus Christ.” The word “through” is a preposition used with the genitive case, signifying the “means of which an action passes to its accomplishment.”[5] Here it speaks of the mediatory work of Christ.[6] This phrase is used a number of times in Romans and seems to be a formula phrase for an aspect of the mediatory work of Christ. It is through Christ, not by or to Christ. There is only one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). No man can approach God except through Jesus Christ. Mediation is a two-way channel. All we give to God goes through Jesus Christ and all God the Father gives us by His grace comes through Jesus Christ. Christ is not a one-sided mediator. Our prayer, praise, and glory to God go through Him. “Christ is Mediator not only of God’s approach to me (as, e.g., in v. 5) but also, as the risen and exalted Lord, of their responding approach to God in worship” notes Cranfield.[7] In Romans, Paul is strongly mindful of Christs’ intermediate role. There is no access to God except “through Jesus Christ.”

Through Jesus Christ” in Romans

Romans 1:8
Mediator in Prayer
Romans 2:16
Mediator of Judgment
Romans 5:1
Mediator of our Peace with God
Romans 5:11
Mediator of Joy and Reconciliation
Romans 5:21
Mediator of Righteousness to us
Romans 7:25a
Mediator in Prayer
Romans 15:30
Mediator of Petitions
Romans 16:27
Mediator of Glory to the Father


The thanksgiving denotes the following:

  • Paul’s interest in the Romans. He is thankful “for you all because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (1:8).  The word “because” gives a reason for His interest and thankfulness for them. It centers upon their faith. The faith referred to is the Romans saving faith, not a special gift of faith (1 Cor. 12:4-9). In Corinthians, we see there is a special faith given by the Spirit to selected believers.[8] This special gift of faith is limited, but saving faith is processed by every believer. Faith was the hand that accepted Christ; the invisible work of God whereby the believer is incorporated into the crucified and risen Christ. Their faith leads them to proclaim the message throughout the world. It is clearly their missionary attitude and mission. Their outreach was to the whole world. Stam tells us: "Think of it! Paul had never even visited Rome to encourage and establish the believers there, yet their faith in Christ was such that it excited worldwide attention and discussion!" [9]
  • Paul’s Sincerity. “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the [preaching of the gospel] of His Son” (1:9). The Majority Greek text literally reads: “For God is my witness, whom I serve with (in) my spirit in the gospel of the Son” (so translated in the KJV). He calls on God as a witness of his sincerity as to his thanksgiving and prayer for the Romans. It displays his unselfishness. Prayer always is concerned about others and has the element of unselfishness. This may be a call on God to be a witness to his sincerity in his actions toward the Romans and to add an element of truth since they had never met Paul. The keynote of our service is the truth. It is to give an element of trust to his readers.  However, Lenski offers another explanation. He says Paul is speaking of his secret prayer life of which God only knows and can witness.[10] He is confirming the Omniscient God who knows the intents and actions of the heart. Truth is an element that God has witnessed in him. God is his witness “as to how unceasingly I make mention of you."
  • It is this God, who Paul serves (1:9). How he serves God is “in his spirit.” It is a spiritual service. Spirit here speaks of the human spirit. It is the internal element in which we serve God. Jesus said that “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Notice the two elements: spirit and truth. The spiritual nature of God requires spiritual worship. Carson observes that “The worshippers whom God seeks to worship him out of the fullness of the supernatural life they enjoy (“in spirit”) and on the basis of God’s incarnate Self-Expression, Christ Jesus Himself, through whom God’s person and will are finally and ultimately disclosed (“in truth”); and these two characteristics form one matrix, indivisible.”[11]   
The prayer life of Paul consists of two things: spiritual worship and intercession. It was in conjunction with the truth of God and continual prayer for others. “Prayer is one of the most definite and genuine proofs of sincere Christian affection[12] that Paul exhibited.

  • Paul’s request for following the will of God (1:10). The will of God is to be followed. It is to be supreme in all that we do. Here in his thanksgiving for the Romans, he requests that they pray for him for his coming by the will of God. The answer and the coming depends on God’s will. True service of verse 9 is guided by our submission to the will of God. Submission to the guidance of God’s will involves the following: (1) A desire to do the will of God. Although the fulfilling of that desire may not be immediate. (2) Submission should be bathed in prayer. (3) There is a need for patience in waiting for the guidance of His will. The text indicates that the desire to go to Rome was long on Paul’s mind, but the opportunity did not yet present itself. (4) God may fulfill His will in unexpected ways. Paul did go to Rome, but it was an all-expense paid trip by the Roman government as a prisoner of Rome. We need to be submissive to the outworking of God’s will, no manner what it entails.

Our prayers should always involve thankfulness to God, sincerity for others, and a desire that we do the will of God.  



[1]  Richard N. Longenecker, NIGTC: ROMANS, 102. Leon Morris, PNTC: THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS, 55. James D.G. Dunn, WBC: ROMANS 1-8, 27. Charles Hodge, COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS, [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, Reprinted 1960], 24. Charles Lee Irons, A SYNTAX GUIDE FOR READERS OF THE GREEK NEW TESTMENT, [Grand Rapids MI, Kregel, 2016], 334.
[2]  C.E.B. Cranfield, ICC: ROMANS, 1:74.
[3]  R.C.H. Lenski, THE INTERPRETATION OF ST. PAUL’S EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS, [Minneapolis, Augsburg Publishing, 1961], 55-56.
[4]  W.H. Griffith Thomas, ST. PAUL’S EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS: A DEVOTIONAL COMMENTARY, [Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 1946], 53: William S. Plumer, COMMENTARY ON ROMANS, [Grand Rapids MI, Kregel, reprint 1993], 45. James D.G. Dunn, WBC: ROMANS 1-8, 27.
[5]  COMPANION BIBLE, “Appendix 104: Prepositions,” 149.
[6]  Contra Douglas J. Moo, NICNT: ROMANS, 57 who downplays this.
[7]  C.E.B Cranfield, ICC: ROMANS, 174.
[8]  Cf. David E. Garland, BECNT: 1 CORINTHIANS, [Grand Rapids MI, Baker, 2003], 581.
[9]  C.R. Stam, ROMANS, 30.
[10]  R.C.H. Lenski, THE INTERPRETATION OF ROMANS, 57. 
[11]  D.A. Carson, PNTC: THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN, [Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 1991], 225-226.
[12]  Griffith Thomas, ROMANS, 55.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Beatitudes: 3 Observations




As we look at the Beatitudes, it is important to make some observations.

First, the main emphasis of the sermon and the Beatitudes is the character of those who are waiting for and are to go into the messianic kingdom. Its primary application is to those Jews before the cross to whom the kingdom is at hand, and to the Jews that will go through the Tribulation before the coming earthly kingdom.

Second, it is wrong, however, to limit the Beatitudes simply to those saints who will inherit the physical promise of the earthly kingdom. Likewise, it is wrong to dismiss the physical blessings by replacing them with spiritual ones. Toussaint’s warning is worthy of repeating:
    The ordinary Jew of Christ’s day looked only at the physical benefits of the kingdom, which he thought would naturally be bestowed on every Israelite. The amillennialist of today, on the other hand, denies the physical existence of the promised Jewish kingdom by “spiritualizing” its material blessings. The Beatitudes of the King indicate that it is not an either-or proposition, but the kingdom includes both physical and spiritual blessings. A careful study of the Beatitudes displays the fact that the kingdom is a physical earthly kingdom with spiritual blessings founded on divine principles.[1]

Third, the ethical truth of the sermon is an inter-dispensational truth. The ethical truth is applicable to all believers. Baker points this out saying, “These character traits for the Kingdom saints are to be found in greater degree ever in the Pauline writings to members of the Body of Christ.”[2] He goes on to say, “These principles are as valid today as they will be for Israel in the coming tribulation.”[3] Therefore the sermon is eschatological indicating His coming to fulfill the sermon’s promises to Israel but also has an impact in the present on the believer’s conduct.

  

[From a forthcoming book on the Sermon on the Mount by Pastor Jim Gray]



[1]   Toussaint, BEHOLD THE KING, 97.
[2]  C.F.  Baker, GOSPELS, 81.
[3]   Ibid, 82.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thoughts on John 2:14





One or Two Cleansings of the Temple?

John 2:14 recorded a cleansing of the Temple. John says it happened at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. However, in the Synoptics it is located at end of His ministry and leads directly to His death (cf. Mark 11:15-18). This leads us to the question of how many times did Jesus cleanse the temple—once or twice?  Because John places the event at the beginning of His ministry, while the gospels place it toward the end, after the triumphal entry, there seems to be two. This question is much debated. Those who hold to one cleansing of the temple contend:

·         No gospel records two cleansings, only one. It may well be that each writer omits the second cleansing because both did not fit their purpose.

·         Borchert says the problem may be one of perspective and false expectation.[1] Many hold that it is because John is writing topically, not chronological and one should not try to harmonize with the Synoptics. It is assumed that John is to be read chronologically.

·         Hamblin takes the gospel as more of a Platonic dialogue or a sequence of plays than a modern history or biography. He sees it as theme oriented indicating the account is Messianic presenting Him as the Lord of the Temple.[2]

There are with the view problems:[3]

·         The bias of scholars who do not see anything as double in Scripture.

·         It is argued that if Jesus cleanses the temple once, the leadership and temple police would never have allowed it again. However, the two cleansings are separated by 3 years. Since His other visits were peaceful, it likely the expectation had subsided. Jesus visited the temple a number of times and there was no other such occurrence until His passion at the end of His ministry.

·         In spite of the time references (the next day, on the third day, etc) in John’s record of the event, these are ignored and downplayed. They hold to the synoptic order and that holding to the time references is to miss the point as a picture of Messianic leadership and authority.[4] (This view lends itself to the spiritualization of the text as the expense of the literal facts).

·         In addition, I have found the one cleansing view seems to skip over the differences between the two accounts.

Two cleanings are possible based on the following facts:

·         The historical placement of the two accounts.

·         The event is placed in the non-Synoptic section of John. Morris points out “Apart from the work of the Baptist nothing else in the first five chapters of this Gospel is to be found in any of the Synoptics.”[5]

·         The differences in wording and setting. There are some things that only John mentions—e.g. the oxen, sheep the birds, and the whip.

·         The words “after this” in verse 12, as well as the words “a few days” indicate the time and the nearness of this event to the wedding in Cana. These time references do not interfere with the focus on Messianic authority. It is consistent with a literal view of the text.

·         Only John records three Passovers, the Synoptics record only two. This is the one that is not recorded in the Synoptics.

·         Unlike the Synoptic cleansings, there is no hint in John that this cleansing immediately leads to Jesus’ death (cf. Mark 11:15-18).

While the difficulty is not settled. I see the weight of the evidence being with the two cleansing view as being the most natural way to see the text. To harmonize the differences of the cleansing in John with that of the Synoptics is impossible, whether one sees John adapting the event for his purpose or not. This failure adds somewhat to the support they are not the same events. Blum reflects the two view position well, saying,

Probably there were two cleansings, for there are differences in the narrations. John was undoubtedly aware of the Synoptics, and he supplemented them. The first cleansing caught the people by surprise. The second cleansing, about three years later, was one of the immediate causes of His death (cf. Mark 11:15-18).[6]





[1]  Gerald Borchert, NAC: JOHN 1-11.
[2]  William Hamblin, John 2:13-25. THE PURIFICATION OF THE TEMPLE, paper, Academic.edu, Feb 1, 2011, 2
[3]  D.A. Carson, PNTC: JOHN, 177-178.
[4]  R.T. France, “Chronological Aspects of ‘Gospel Harmony’,” VOX EVANGELICA 16,(1986), 30-66.
[5]  Leon Morris, NICNT: JOHN, 190.
[6]  Edwin A. Blum, BKC: “John,” 279.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Epistle of James


INTRODUCTION to JAMES





There is some confusion as to the place of the General Epistles. This is especially true of the book of James. It is caused by three factors:
·         The date of these epistles.
·         The subject of these epistles.
·         The receivers of these epistles.

Dispensationalists see a conflict with the Epistles of Paul, especially a conflict between grace and works. These as Circumcision Epistles are distinct from the Church Epistles of Paul. The receivers are Hebrews consisting of the believing Jewish remnant. Hunter observes “much of James sounds like the kingdom teaching of the Lord Jesus and His disciples before the resurrection”[1]  James is addressed to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (1:1).[2] Paul says the Jewish remnant, “Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come” (Acts 26:7). There are several Jewish references in this epistle (cf. 1:18; 2:21-22; 5:4, 7). It does not profess to be addressed to Gentile churches, nor is it addressed to a single church; but to a people or nationality.  This is vital to understanding the book of James.

Author

It is generally believed that James, the half-brother of Jesus is the author (Gal. 1:19; 2:9). This can be traced back to the time of the church fathers in the very early church. Early Christian writing refers to him as “James the Just.” There are three features that fit James as the author:

·         The historical circumstances reflect the time in which James was in Jerusalem. He was the head of the Jewish church at Jerusalem. James fits the portrait gained from Acts (15;13-21; 21:18ff). James maintains Jewish vocabulary and truths. All but thirteen words are found in the Greek Old Testament (LXX). The style is Semitic.

·         The theological concepts fit the early Jewish remnant. Moo calls it a “primitive Christian theology.”[3] This is contrary to the claim that James has no theology. Part of this problem is James is written on a practical level, not a theological one. However, we must not downgrade nor dismiss the theological thoughts in James.  His theology includes (1) God, who is one (1:5; 2:19), the judge (4:11), giver of grace (4:6) and jealous (4:5). (2) The Law of God which is the law of liberty (1:25). The unity of the Law (2:10-11). The royal law needs to be obeyed (2:8). However, “James reveals little concern about obedience to the ritual law.”[4] (3) Eschatology. The main characteristics are the Jewish teaching of the end times. The eschatological judgment is given to stimulate right attitudes and behavior (1:10-11; 2:12-13; 3:1; 5:1-6, 9, 12). The eschatology involves the promised kingdom (2:5). Surely, the letter is not void of theology.

·         There are resemblances to James’ speech in Acts 15 and the letter.

JAMES
RESEMBLANCE
ACTS 15 SPEECH
1:1
He wrote Letters
15:23
1:16, 19
 To the Brethren
15:25
1:27
Keep yourself, Holy
15:14, 29
2:5
Choice of God
15:14, 25
2:7
Name of God
15:17
5:19-20
Conversion
15:19

Date

The letter shows the evidence of being written early, even before Paul penned his epistles. The traditional date of James’s death is 62 AD and had to be written before that time. At the other end, it had to be written after the crucifixion, resurrection, and Pentecost. There is no evidence in the letter concerning the conversion of Gentiles or the issues raised by their conversion. There is no evidence that the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) had taken place.

There are four views of authorship and date (which go together):[5]
·         The work is pseudonymous, written by a Jewish proponent in the second century. This is to be rejected. This takes a low view of Scripture, denying supernaturalism and divine inspiration.
·         It was written by committee and assembled after the death of James. On the same grounds as above, we reject this view.
·         It was written after Paul’s letters. However, one must reject the authorship of James to hold this view.
·         The best view is that it was written by James before Paul’s letters. This clearly puts the epistle during the apostle’s lifetime. There are a number of reasons for the early date: (1) There is little or no connection to the tradition found in the Gospels. It was likely written before the standardization of the Gospels.[6] (2) The manner of the letter is strongly Jewish. Mayor long ago pointed out that, “No less confirmatory of an early date is the Judaic tone of the Epistle.”[7] (3) The primitive nature of the meetings of the Jewish believers. Most scholars put the date in the 30’s to late 50’s. It is most likely the first written document in the New Testament. As such, it cannot be a polemic against Paul since it was written before Paul penned his letters. Blue dates it between 45 to 48 AD.[8] However, Zane suggests a date of 34-35 AD.[9] It is clear that it was written sometime before Jerusalem Council in 48-49 AD.[10]

Unique Features
·         There is no personal reference to any specific individuals among the recipients.
·         One out of two verses are imperatives (commands).
·         James alludes to over 20 Old Testament books. It “has a more Jewish cast than any other writing of the New Testament.”[11]
·         Many references to nature which was a Jewish teaching characteristic. Jesus used this method as well.
·         There are many allusions to the Sermon on the Mount. If Matthew had not been in existence at the time of this letters writing, makes little difference. James was associated with Jesus’ ministry thus it is probable that he heard the sermon, recalling it from memory.[12] Porter gives 45 parallel statements between James and the sermon (e.g. James 1:4 and Matthew 5:48).[13] There are numerous connections between the two, indicating a strong influence of Jesus’ preaching on James. Jesus presented three great truths: (1) Jesus taught on the behavior of believers (cf. Matthew 5:20). (2) Jesus clarified the believer’s goal (Matt. 5:48). (3) Jesus illuminated the method by which to reach maturity (Matt 6:1). These are “the hidden framework on which James hung his challenges to his readers.”[14]
·         The letter is NOT used to teach doctrine, but to lead into an appreciation of what they already knew.
·         Stress is on morality and ethics of the teaching of Jesus.
·         Probably written to Hellenistic Jewish synagogue. Some suggest it was the synagogue of dispersion Jews in Jerusalem, which is referred to in Acts 6:9.

Purpose of James

There is one key word for the purpose of James—edification. James wants to encourage the Jewish remnant to bear their trials with patience and to exhort them to maturity and holiness. He encourages maturity through compassionate service, speech, contriteness, and concern for others. He does so through the Jewish practice of the time, yet there is much that can be applied today. Hill gives this warning:

“I want to make it very clear that we should teach and preach the practical truth found in them [i.e., the circumcision epistles]. As we rightly divide the truth, we must rightly handle the truth and allow the Holy Spirit to apply it to our lives.”[15]





[1]  Finley Hunter, “The Circumcision Epistles,” unpublished paper.
[2]  King James Version is used unless footnoted.
[3]  Douglas J. Moo, PNTC: THE LETTER OF JAMES, [Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 2000], 11.
[4]  Ibid, 31.
[5]  Dan G. McCartney, BECNT: JAMES, [Grand Rapids, Baker, 2009], 14-20.
[6]  Ibid, 15.
[7]  Joseph B. Mayor, THE EPISTLE OF ST. JAMES [Grand Rapids, Baker, reprint 1978], cxxiv.
[8]  J. Ronald Blue, BKC: “James,” [Wheaton IL, Victor, 1983], 816.
[9]  Zane C. Hodges, THE EPISTLE OF JAMES, [Irving TX, Grace Evangelical Society, 1994], 12.
[10] Douglas J. Moo, PNTC: JAMES, 26.
[11]  Joseph B. Mayor, JAMES, ii.
[12]  Virgil V. Porter Jr, “The Sermon on the Mount in the Book of James, Part 1,” BIBIOTHECA SACRA, July-September 2005, 346. James Adamson, NICNT: JAMES [Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 1976], 22.
[13]  Virgil V. Porter Jr, “The Sermon on the Mount in the Book of James, Part 1” 347-352. I will point out some of these paralells in our notes.
[14]  Thomas L. Constable, NOTES ON JAMES, [Soniclight.org, 2015], 7.
[15] Bob Hill, THE BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO GOSPELS, [Commerce City CO, Biblical Answers Ministry, 1999], 101