Review: The Minister and His Greek New Testament

The Minister and His Greek New Testament: by A.T. Robertson

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“There is no theologian who is not first a grammarian.”

This book is a collection of twelve essays about the subject of New Testament Greek. There is a wide variety in these essays. The most famous essay forms title of the collection. It is both an admonishment and an encouragement for ministers to dig into the original language of the New Testament.

The preacher cannot excuse himself for his neglect of Greek with the plea that the English is plain enough to teach one the way of life… We shall have many more [English translations]. They will all have special merit, and they will all fail to bring out all that is in the Greek. One needs to read these translations, the more the better. Each will supplement the others. But, when he has read them all, there will remain a large and rich untranslatable element that the preacher ought to know. (p. 18-19)

He is no theologian who is not first a grammarian. (22)

If the blind guide leads the blind, they will both fall in to the ditch. One simply has to know his parts of speech if he is to keep out of the ditch, and avoid dragging his followers after him. Schisms have arisen around misinterpretations of single words. Grammar is a means of grace. (21)

“Grammar and Preaching” is also in a similar vein.

Several other essays deal with very specific textual issues: “Notes on a Specimen Papyrus of the First Century A.D.,” “The Use of ‘huper’ in Business Documents in the Papyri,” “The Greek Article and the Deity of Christ,” “The New Testament Use of ‘me’ With Hesitent Questions in the Indicative Mode,” and “The Grammar of the Apocalypse of John.” These were interesting, but of limited application.

He gives a survey of of what you’ll find as you dig deeper in “Pictures in Prepositions,” and “Sermons in Greek Tenses,” in which every preposition and every verb tense is illustrated, and you get a taste for the rich meaning found in these specific bits of grammar.

Finally, three essays are more biographical in nature. John Brown of Haddington is famous for having taught himself Greek out on the mountains watching sheep. Robertson concludes:

It is a romantic story that puts to rout all the flimsy excuses of preachers to-day who excuse themselves for ignorance of the Greek New Testament or for indifference and neglect after learning how to read it… The example of John Brown of Haddington ought to bring the blush of shame to every minister who lets his Greek New Testament lie unopened on his desk or who is too careless to consult the lexicon and the grammar that he may enrich his mind and refresh his soul with the rich stores in the Greek that no translation can open to him. Difficulties reveal heroes and cowards. Every war does precisely that. The Greek New Testament is a standing challenge to every preacher in the world. (108)

Erasmus gets a couple of pages, and then the collection concludes with “Broadus as Scholar and Preacher.” This was a very enjoyable short biography of Broadus, who was Robertson’s own teacher. Robertson compares him with others:

Broadus was more like Spurgeon and Maclaren than any of the others. He lacked Spurgeon’s intensity of experience in a continued pastorate, but he surpassed Spurgeon in Biblical learning and general culture. Broadus had the homely wit of Spurgeon and the scholarship of [Alexander] Maclaren with all of Maclaren’s charm. (139)

One is reminded of more recent Pastor/Scholars, and his example is very inspiring. Robertson also edited The Life and letters of John Broadus. It is always a delight to read a student’s admiring recollection of his teacher, especially a student such as Robertson!

In all, I recommend this collection of essays. As others have said, it is a great inspiration to dig into the original language of the New Testament, both by direct argument, and by biographical example. Every preacher or teacher should read this through.

‘Just me and my Bible…’

Timothy Ward on the clarity (‘perspicuity) of Scripture:

Turretin summarizes: ‘The question then comes to this — whether the Scriptures are so plain in things essential to salvation . . . that without the external aid of tradition or the infallible judgment of the church, they may be read and understood profitably by believers. The papists deny this; we affirm it.’ [Institutes 2.17]

Without that context [:polemical, contra ‘the papists’] given in our doctrine of biblical clarity we risk giving the impression that individual believers, with no reference to preaching, teaching or good biblical scholarship, and therefore deprived of the traditions of biblical interpretation meditated through these channels, ought to be able to make good sense of Scripture on their own. The Spirit may graciously allow them to that, but there is no promise from God that he unfailingly will. . .

Some individuals pick up a Bible, with no one to explain it to them, and find the gospel of Christ coming across loud and clear. Others, though, ask for God’s help and read Scripture with an open spirit, but find that the gospel of Christ is not especially clear to them without a teacher to teach them the gospel from Scripture and to show them how to read Scripture (cf. [Philip and the Ethiopian] Acts 8:30–35). . .

From Words of Lifepp. 125, 126

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the necessity of the church in the life of the Christian. In America we are culturally conditioned to understand Scripture and the Christian life through an individualistic lens, and overlook the communal aspects. We read passages in the plural as if they were singular. We view our relationship with God as primarily individual, to the exclusion of necessary church-community aspects.

The church is essential to the life of a Christian. There are things we cannot learn, sins we cannot overcome, needs we cannot meet, and Scripture that isn’t clear to us apart from the grace of God working through the church by His Spirit.

I was surprised and delighted to see how Ward relates this to the clarity/’perspicuity’ of Scripture. We protestants have been (rightly!) taught the ‘priesthood of all believers’, yet, we err if we overreact to ‘papist’ claims with hyper-individualized claims of our own. God gave the church teachers (Eph. 4); Paul told believers to teach one another (Col 3:16, Rom 15:4). ‘Just me and my Bible’ won’t cut it — we need the church, even when it comes to Scripture itself.

John 16:13 says ‘When the Spirit comes He will guide you into all truth.’ Read it in Greek — it’s a plural pronoun — humon. How many times have I read that as a promise to me as an individual? Our cultural glasses are really thick.

Ward concludes:

Therefore, we are right to trust that God in Scripture has spoken and continues to speak sufficiently clearly for us to base our saving knowledge of him and of ourselves, and our beliefs and our actions, on the content of Scripture alone, without ultimately validating our understanding of these things or our confidence in them by appeal to any individual or institution. (p. 127)

The key word there is ‘ultimately’. Our ultimate basis of clear knowledge is not the church, but Scripture itself, contra the papists. But affirming this does not preclude the necessity, at times, for the church, even in the clarity of Scripture for salvation. For more along these lines, and many others related to an evangelical, grounded, historical, yet contemporary doctrine of Scripture, I highly recommend Timothy Ward’s book: Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God.

“Oh!, He’s got the quill again…”

I believe in the inspiration of Scripture. This week my understanding of this doctrine got a lot bigger. Inspiration is an act of God’s providence. The way that Joseph can say ‘God sent me here’ (Genesis 45:7-8) when his brothers sold him into slavery, the way that Christ can be ‘delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God‘ and yet ‘you have taken with lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death’ (Acts 2:23), in this same way God can be the author of Scripture without denying human agency and creativity in writing it. We don’t believe in the ‘dictation theory.’

So far, so good.

Here’s where it got bigger — and better — for me.

It’s not like God looked down at the apostle Paul going about his business and said ‘Oh look, he’s picking up the pen to write to the Romans. Holy Spirit, you better get down there and superintend it. We need that letter in the New Testament.’

Nor is it the case that God could have just picked up the quill Himself and moved it around on the page to the same effect, and just for fun he decided to let Paul hold on to it while God did the writing.

God’s providence in general, and in the area of inspiration in particular, is marvelous. Timothy Ward, again:

Bavinck [Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1p. 438] speaks in very similar terms to Warfield about how the Spirit’s actions in the Bible writers at the moment of the composition is the natural climax of a long process of the Spirit’s preparation of the writers through their ‘birth, upbringing, natural gifts, research, memory, reflection, experience of life, revelation, etc.’

From Words of Lifep. 83

I would expand the scope beyond the lifetime of each writer themselves to include His preparation of cultures, languages, words, world empires, etc. such that Paul had a working vocabulary in a particular language that been in preparation for centuries, and even millennia before, all used in that climactic moment in the writing of a letter to a church.

Romans 11:33-36!

 

Review: The Hole in Our Holiness

The Hole in Our Holiness: by Kevin DeYoung

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Balanced, Biblical, and Encouraging Book on Holiness

This is another good book from Kevin DeYoung, this time on Holiness. Kevin is a great blend of a mind full of historic Christian doctrine, a background of stereotypical American evangelicalism, a great sense of humor, and a very readable style. This book is a brief formulation of a much misunderstood teaching in the Bible. Surrounded by antinomianism (however you define it) sinless perfectionism, “perpetually struggling” -ism, and external formalism, where is true holiness to be found? DeYoung starts with salvation and works all the way through.

He deals with several apparent paradoxes (“aren’t we already holy?”), and the often confusing relationship of the Christian to The Law (“His commandments are not burdensome.”)

Two of my favorite sections where “‘Effort’ is not a four letter word,” on the role of Christian striving after holiness, through the power of the Spirit. In other words “working out because God is working in us.” This short summary of his 2012 T4G message is pure gold (the message is classic, too). This aspect of the Christian’s holiness is often neglected, but absolutely vital. I highly recommend anyone wondering how all this works together do a word study on the greek word “energeo” in the New Testament – great, great stuff.

His section on true repentance, distinguished from the false, was also extremely helpful, sorting out the various responses a person has to their sin.

All along the way he draws on Lloyd-JonesThomas BrooksJohn MurrayJ.C. RyleJ.I. PackerJerry Bridges, and John Piper. He does a great job of drawing from the stream of all these great teachers, and applying it to today’s audience.

I definitely recommend this to anyone who wants a short, balanced, practical, Biblical, pointed, sometimes humorous and definitely encouraging book on Holiness.

Dads: Stop Looking at Porn

Tony Reinke and Tedd Tripp (author of Shepherding a Child’s Heart) discuss “The Greatest Threat to the Christian Family”: Dads looking at porn. Tripp explores a couple of the effects and implications, both for the church and the family. I wish he would write a whole book on the subject!

Review: Wired for Intimacy

Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by William M. Struthers

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The Neurobiological and Psychological Effects of Pornography

Repeated exposure to any stimulus results in neurological circuit making. That is how we learn. But what does pornography teach and how does it change those who regularly consume it? (p. 13)

Wired for Intimacy is an exploration of the physical, neurobiological, and psychological effects of pornography on men in particular, written from a Christian perspective. Living in a culture that is as hyper-sexualized as ours, with such unrestricted access to sexual content, presents constant challenges to purity. I find it extremely helpful to read books on this subject to keep my spiritual weapons sharp. This book was really helpful, from a different angle.

The first half of the book is a heavily detailed discussion about neuro-bio-chemistry, and includes a large chapter that is pretty much “Brain Biology 101.” It then widens out into broader areas of discussion as well: masculine identity, what it means to be an embodied soul, and the nature of true intimacy.

I found this book very helpful in stimulating fresh thought in these areas. I don’t know much about psychology and neurobiology, and I found these aspects fascinating. While the whole book was useful, a couple of paragraphs stood out as extremely helpful:

Pornography takes human sexuality out of its natural context – intimacy between two human beings – and makes it a product to be bought and sold. By debasing the human body and valuing it in the same way we would something from the local convenience store, pornography promotes a human being’s sexuality as a product for consumption. (19)

As I come across suggestive women or images in my day to day life, I have often had this ringing in my mind: “Her sexuality is not a product to be consumed, for even a second. Not even if she is presenting it that way.”

The other was this:

Men share with women the same basic needs of humanity. The need for intimacy requires that we understand who we are and share that with those we long to be known by. As we become more intimate, the other speaks into us things about ourselves that we could not possibly know from the inside. We allow the one we are intimate with to discover us in ways we could not do on our own, and we do so with them. It is a process that develops and deepens over time. We know ourselves more fully because we are known more fully. The intimacy that we have with God and with others enables us to move along the journey toward either sanctification or depravity. Pornography corrupts the ability to be intimate. (43)

I had never thought about intimacy this way. I cannot know things about myself without opening up to others and allowing them to speak to me about what they see. This is a really helpful lens through which to view marriage, friendship, parenting, and other relationships, respectively.

I found this book to be a very helpful brick in the foundation of sexual purity. Of course this does not exhaust the spiritual and Biblical matters involved, but understanding the way our brains and minds work is an important step in realizing the harm, and understanding the solutions to this problem. God has created a full-orbed reality, with bodies and brains, as well as minds and souls. We are not just “brains on sticks.” I recommend this as a good exploration of another side of God’s multi-layered world.

Review: The Luminaries

 

 

The Luminaries: by Eleanor Catton

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literature as masterful story-telling

The first time I ever heard of the ‘Man Booker Prize’ was on NPR. Turns out the book that won it that year was garbage (in my humble opinion), but I read some more, and one of my favorite novels of all time turned out to be an MB winner. I don’t read very much fiction, but I do try to read each year’s winner if I get the chance.

I gulped when I pulled The Luminaries off the shelf, felt the 800+ pages, and wasn’t sure if I wanted to devote that much effort. I followed the ‘100-minus-your-age’ rule, read the first 72 pages, and then wanted more. I was getting hooked. By the time I finished the first (and largest, by far) section of the book, I had to finish.

The story is a mystery: how did Crosbie Wells, a hermit gold prospector, die? Where is Emory Staines, the richest young man in the town? What happened to Anna Wetherell, found unconscious in the street? There are more questions than this, but these are big ones. The first section of the book depicts 12 men from the town, with various connections to these questions, gathered in a room, telling their stories, trying to piece it all together.

I had the sense near the beginning that this was going to be epic in story-telling scope, and it was. The unreliability of differing human perspectives with different motives and different interpretations is explored throughout the whole book. There were no overarching moral themes that stood out — this was just a very well written mystery, with dozens of twists and turns, and the the truth from the past unfolded the deeper you go. The book cycles through the 12 different men, and a few key women, and works its way backward in time — in some sections — while working its way forward in others. The progressive unfolding of the big picture is an incredible ride.

I enjoyed The Luminaries as a really good story. I enjoyed the style, the characters, the suspense, and the revealing of the mystery. It was worth the effort, for me.

Charismatic “Calvinist”: a contradiction?

This was the whole point of Steve Lawson’s message at the Strange Fire Conference.  Lawson (and MacArthur) is a baptist.

The following quotes are from Martyn Lloyd-Jones: A Family Portrait by Christopher Catherwood:

Here were two very different views of what the Doctor taught on the Holy Spirit – one that he had become pentecostal and the other that he was an anti-charismatic who had been hijacked. Obviously both views cannot be right! (122-3)

Unfortunately, as Jim Packer has so ably pointed out in his book Keep in Step with the Spirit, some people are more influenced by tradition in what they believe than by what Scripture is actually saying, however inconvenient this might be.  Calvin was a cessationist too, and to many that meant if one was to be truly Reformed, one had to be a cessationist too. (Ironically, some of the people who held this view most strongly were Baptists.  Now while some of us there is no problem about being both Reformed and Baptist, Calvin was a firm paedobaptist!  So while they were strongly denying that one could ever believe in continuing spiritual gifts and be Reformed, they were undermining their own case by their insistence that one could indeed be Reformed while denying the doctrine of infant baptism in which Calvin believed so strongly.) (124-5)

Perhaps of course it was easy for the Doctor to believe things that few others combined.  He did after all believe that preaching was logic on fire, and that meant in this context the logic of the Calvinist and the fire of the charismatic – though as he himself showed, Calvinists could have fire and those who believed in the continuation of charismatic gifts could possess logic!  So his dual belief was quite consistent with the man, as well as flowing from scripture.  This last point was most crucial to him.  As we have seen, he was a Bible Calvinist, not a system one.  This made all the difference. (128-9)

People on the reformed side seemed to think that if Calvin did not believe in baptism with the Spirit as a separate experience, nor should they.  This was of course to elevate Calvin to a position higher than Scripture! As we have seen, ultimate if Calvin said one thing and the Bible said another, Calvin was wrong.  To the Doctor, this was not a problem, but to many who had discovered the glorious truths that Calvin also discovered in Scripture, with all their liberating power, then it was a shock to find that he could be wrong.  Instinctively, and in human terms understandably, they rebelled against the notion.  It is much easier to believe in a simple package than to sift through everything and seemingly believe three contradictory things before breakfast! (133)

Grudem and Calvin on leaving a church

Grudem:

Christians have no obligation to seek the purest church they can find and stay there, and then leave it if an even purer church comes to their attention. Rather, they should find a true church in which they can have effective ministry and in which they will experience Christian growth as well, and then should stay there and minister, continually working for the purity of that church.

Systematic Theology 874-875

Calvin:

[N]o one is permitted to spurn its [the church’s] authority, flout its warnings, resist its counsels, or make light of its chastisements — much less to desert it and break its unity. For the Lord esteems the communion of his church so highly that he counts as a traitor and apostate from Christianity anyone who arrogantly leaves any Christian society, provided it cherishes the true ministry of Word and sacraments. He so esteems the authority of the church that when it is violated he believes his own diminished.

Institutes 4.1.10

Both quotes from Sojourners and Strangers by Gregg Allison, pp. 166-7.