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William Tyndale: His Life, His Legacy

9 Sep

Throughout the world today, people are learning to be more efficient farmers, to keep more sanitary houses, and to prevent diseases all because someone was committed to bringing them the Bible in their native tongue.  This connection may not be obvious at first.  After all, what does the Sacred Writ really have to do with better medical techniques or the production of crops?  The answer may be simpler than you imagine.

Each of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world today began as an oral form of communication.  While this allows people to communicate their immediate needs, it is rarely an efficient form of accurately conveying information in the long term.  Like a game of “telephone”, verbal instructions can be warped and mutilated until what began as history and good advice becomes legend and folklore.  The ability to write changes this… and frequently this transformation begins with the work of men and women dedicated to sharing the words of the Bible.  It’s a story shared by literally thousands of languages, including (not too long ago) our own.

That’s why, this week, we’re featuring the 60 minute DVD “William Tyndale: His Life, His Legacy”.  Brief and informative, this winner of the 2004 WORLDFEST International Film Festival GOLD Special Jury Award will introduce you to the man whose efforts to make the Holy Scriptures available in the common tongue led to the creation of the modern English language.  In this incredible documentary, you’ll learn about Tyndale’s spiritual journey and the passion which drove him to defy the ruling powers as he translated the Bible into the language of his people.  You’ll hear about his fearless drive, even in the face of death, and you’ll witness first-hand how the written language can impact both the fate of nations and of individuals.  It’s a fascinating journey through the history of the world’s most popular book filled with insights into the origins of one of the most spoken languages of our day!

William Tyndale: His Life, His Legacy” was produced by Avalon Press and is available on www.Amazon.com.

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How Do Christians Determine What they Accept as Scripture: Settling on the Final Selections (And Why You Don’t Necessarily Have to Agree in Order to Be a Christian)

1 Feb

Well here we are!  Over the last few months, we’ve taken a careful look at “How Christians Determine What They Accept as Scripture”.  We’ve examined tests ranging from prophesy and accuracy to authenticity and value.  (If you’d like to review any of these tests, click the highlighted link above.)  Today, we conclude our series with a look at how, when, and where, the final selections were made and what effect this determination does or doesn’t have upon Christians today.

Confirming the date at which the Bible was finalized in its present form can be tricky business.  Why?  Quite simply because it took a few decades between the composition of each book and its distribution to and acceptance by the individual congregations scattered throughout the world.  What is certain is that all 27 books of the New Testament were accepted and in use by the time of the Nicean Council in A.D. 325 – a council which (contrary to urban myth) never even addressed the issue of what should or shouldn’t be included in the Canon.

It was the Synod of Hippo in A.D. 393 that produced the first complete New Testament list and it is interesting to note that the Synod did not establish the Canon, but merely recognized it.  Indeed, it was the churches themselves, individual believers who had done the hard work of reviewing the candidates for Scripture, comparing them to previous revelation, and establishing their accuracy and apostolic authority.  Perhaps the greatest miracle of the Canon is that independent thinkers throughout the world came to the same conclusion that these 27 books deserved a special place within the faith.

So, do you have to accept all 66 books in order to be a Christian?  Absolutely not!  While I, personally, believe that the Old and New Testament are the accurate, inspired, and infallible Word of God, some of the most respected Christians in history have found what they felt to be sufficient cause to doubt.  Martin Luther, the instigator of the Protestant reformation doubted the books of Esther and James.  John Calvin, his northern counterpart, questioned Esther.

Christians sometimes encounter difficulties in Scripture which seem hard to resolve – but their doubt concerning the books themselves, does not equal doubt in God.  Nor does it equal lack of saving faith. Christianity, after all, isn’t about what you know, but about Who you know.  It is faith in Christ’s shed blood as the full payment for our sins which saves us, not absolute certainty that every word in our modern Bible is actually a part of Scripture.

So if you doubt, don’t lose hope.  Struggle with the hard questions.  Be open to admitting your doubts.  Seek the answers.  And cling tight to the One who gave His life in order to redeem yours!

How Do Christians Determine What they Accept as Scripture: The Test of Value

25 Jan

Not every accurate text written during the time of Christ was included in the Christian canon.  Often times, the reason for this was that these texts were written by those who were not followers of Jesus.  But what about books written by non-apostolic contemporaries who were?  To answer this question, we turn to the final test in our series on how Christians determine what they accept as Scripture: The Test of Value.

Anyone who has read Christian writings beyond those included within the Scriptures will likely understand why such a test is necessary, even though it may at times appear to be a bit subjective.  Christian book stores abound with volumes written by educated men: preachers, theologians, and philosophers.  On occasion, these books meet the other standards set for Scriptural writings in that they are accurate, internally consistent with both themselves and other revelation, and even helpful to believers in general.  To include such works within the Christian canon, however, would make for more reading than most of us could do in a lifetime.

Such products are not limited to our modern age and Christians in the early Church found themselves in a position of needing to refine what would or wouldn’t be selected for inclusion in their Sacred Text.  The easiest way to make the decision was to select only those texts containing authentic and new apostolic doctrine.

You can think of it a bit like making a decision whether or not to include the writings of C. S. Lewis as part of the New Testament.  Provided that Lewis was an authentic apostle (he wasn’t) and that his writings were always consistent with previous revelation (not always the case) and that what he had to say would be useful to the Church worldwide (it is), they might make a good addition to the Holy Writ.  So why not include them?  The answer is that Lewis’ writings are an exercise in the application of Biblical principles, not a presentation of new principles upon which believers should act.  It is for this reason that some otherwise good candidates for inclusion in the Bible, such as the Shepherd of Hermas and the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles are unknown to many of today’s churchgoing believers.

By limiting the Sacred Text in this way, Christians erred on the side of caution and also kept their writings compact enough that every believer would have the ability to read, understand, and master the core doctrines of the faith.  (That’s not to say that this always happens or even that it happens frequently – just that it is a conceivable possibility!)

So there you have it: the tests which have been traditionally used to determine what does or doesn’t belong in the Christian canon.   They have influenced the Church for millennia and will likely continue to do so well into the future!

What happens if you aren’t sure about all of the selections made by the Church in the past?  Next week, we’ll conclude our series with a look at the finalization of the Canon and what it does or doesn’t mean for believers today.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts on this test and why (or why not) you accept its validity in the comment box below!

How Do Christians Determine What they Accept as Scripture: The Test of Authenticity

18 Jan

Over the last few months, we’ve looked at a number of tests used by Christians to determine what we accept as Scripture.  This week, we’ll continue this theme as we take a look at the Test of Authenticity.  Why does authenticity matter?  Quite simply because it is the eye-witnesses (like Matthew and John) and those who were close to them (like Luke and Mark) who were in the best position to describe what Jesus actually taught.  They saw the events for themselves and were closely associated with the person of whom they spoke.  More importantly, as Apostles or those close to the Apostles, they were privy not just to Jesus’ public teachings, but also to what He had to say in private.  As such, they were uniquely qualified to purvey His doctrine to other followers not just in Judea, but around the world.

That isn’t to say that accurate accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings couldn’t or didn’t originate from those who weren’t Apostles.  Indeed, there are a number of excellent accounts from the time period, not all of which were provided by followers of “The Way”.  When it comes to establishing the doctrines of the Church, however, Christians are and were concerned with ensuring that the teaching came from someone with Apostolic authority.

Verifying authorship and date of composition is relatively easy when copies of “Scriptural” books are confined to a limited geographic area, such as the region of Judea (as was the case with most of the Old Testament).  Add in the rest of the world, however, and confirming the origin of a text becomes a challenge.  Though all 27 books of the New Testament were written within 70 years of Christ’s death, writings like these were copied and sent to churches individually and not every congregation in the early Church had copies of every document.  Most churches subjected new writings to serious scrutiny (using the previously discussed tests) before accepting the documents as authoritative.  Books like James, 2 Peter, Jude, 2 and 3 John and Revelation, were not immediately embraced by all Christian congregations and, as a result, decades passed before the New Testament officially stood as it does today.

The Church would later face similar difficulties when it came to verifying the authenticity of Old Testament writings as well.  The Alexandrian Jewish Diaspora had an edition of the Scriptures which contained numerous works which did not pass the authentication process utilized by the Orthodox Judean Jews.  While some Christians accepted these apocryphal books, others rejected them outright.

While these “hidden” or “secret” books contained material pertaining to this time, they were eventually excluded for a number of reasons varying from lack of authenticity (as found in additions made to Daniel and Esther long after the events in their volumes supposedly occurred) to scientific inaccuracies (as found in 2 Esdras, Tobit, and Judith) to contradictions with other Scripture (such as found in 2 Esdras, the Sibylline Oracles, and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs) or simple historical inaccuracies (as those manifested in Baruch).   Indeed, Jerome (one of the early Church fathers) struggled with the idea of including these texts in his Latin translation known today as the Vulgate and did so only with deep reservations.

That said, if you want a broader understanding of varying Christian traditions, all of these make for excellent reading.  Most High School students should be able to pick out the reasons for their exclusion from the evangelical tradition and, if they think carefully, the reasons for their inclusion in other traditions.

Next week, we’ll take a look at one final test applied to determining whether a text qualifies for a place among the Holy Writ: The Test of Value.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your thoughts and discoveries in the comment box below!

Law and Grace: A Case Study in Doctrinal Non-contradiction

11 Jan

Over the last five weeks, we’ve taken a look at a case study on the apparent doctrinal contradiction between the loving God of the New Testament and the wrathful God presented in the Old Testament.  Today, we’ll take a look at a second case study, examining the tension which exists between the Scriptural depictions of Law and Grace.

Anyone who has ever conversed with a Biblical Christian about their faith has likely heard the words of Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  (NASB)  Used to demonstrate that there is nothing a human being can do to restore their relationship with God, verses like these seem to be at odds with passages like James 2:14, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?”   If doctrinal non-contradiction is a rule for establishing canon, how did both passages make it into the Bible?

To answer this question, we need to spend a few minutes in the Old Testament.  The first five books (known as the Pentateuch) focus heavily upon the Law that God gave to His people – so much so that some have been led to believe that the rule for Salvation actually changes somewhere between the Old and New Testaments.  A closer examination of the text, however, reveals that this is far from the truth.  In fact, passages like Genesis 15:6:  “Then he believed the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” and Habakuk 2:4: “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith” clearly indicate that even when the Law was being actively observed, it was not obedience which saved a man, but faith.

If this is the case, why did God bother with the Law at all?  According to Galatians 3:24-26, “the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.  For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”  Rather than being a means by which a person can be saved, the Law is a means for demonstrating that people need to be saved.  Our inability to perfectly keep God’s rules is immediately apparent when we compare our actual behavior with this depiction of desirable behavior.  We just can’t do it.  And that’s the point.

Paul clarifies the point in Romans 4:1-8, “What then shall we say that Abraham our forefather according to the flesh, has found?  For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.  For what does the Scripture say?  ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’  (Genesis 15:6)  Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.  But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the mad to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account’ (Psalm 32:1,2).”  The truth is, God’s gift to us becomes all that much more magnificent when we realize that we can do nothing to contribute to our own Salvation!

So how do we clarify the presence of a text like James 2:14 in the midst of all these verses about salvation through faith?  More easily than you might think!  My Dad used to say that if you ignore context, you can make the Bible say anything you like.  His favorite example was to mix the phrases, “Judas went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5) and “Go thou and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).  Of course, any intelligent observer would note that the two verses involved different situations and were found at different places within the text.  They really had nothing to do with one another other than the fact that they were both a part of the sacred writ.

The same principle applies to Ephesians 2:8-9 (written to a Church that needed to be reminded that it was faith, not works which saved them) and James 2:14 (which was written to a congregation struggling with persecution and fighting to “let their light shine”).  While the former needed to remember the origins of their Salvation, the latter needed to be reminded that true faith would bear real fruit. I love to compare this to the difference between saying that I believe a chair will hold my weight and actually sitting in the chair and proving that I believe it won’t collapse beneath me.  James was pointing out that real faith is more than just uttering a few words about “trusting Jesus for Salvation” – it was about actually trusting Jesus.  And actual trust is demonstrated through obedience.

So do the two passages contradict?  Not at all!  In fact, we find that both are in perfect harmony – real faith, actual trust in Christ as the full payment for our sins – will save us.  Not works.  Not empty words.  Genuine faith.

Next week, we’re back on track, investigating the role of “authenticity” (Was the book written by an eye-witness or someone else?) in the selection of the Christian canon.  Meanwhile, if you’d like a more in-depth look at the roles of faith and works, why don’t you take some time to read through the book of Romans?  It’s a short read, full of deep theology!

 

Case Study Follow Up: A God of Wrath and Love

4 Jan

Over the course of the last four weeks, we’ve explored a case study on doctrinal non-contradiction.  Our examination has centered upon the text of 1 Samuel 15:2-3 in which the Israelites are commanded to kill every Amalekite man, woman, and child and how that text (from a Christian point of view) fits with the loving image of God presented in New Testament passages like 2 Peter 3:9.  (To review the case, click on any of the following links: Part I,Part II,Part III,Part IV)

If you weren’t quite able to put yourself into the argument from a theological standpoint, you’re probably left with a few important and valid questions.  How do texts like this influence the way Christians approach acts of war?  Do passages like this mean that believers support acts of genocide or the killing of children?  This week, we’re going to take a look at both of those questions, but to begin with, let me take a moment to share a few of the rules of Biblical interpretation that are adhered to by mainline denominations:

  1. Just because an event happens in Scripture doesn’t mean that God intends for us to recreate the event in the modern world.  If this were the case, there would be plenty of cause for Christians to engage in everything from fratricide and incest to child sacrifice and cannibalism.  Instead, we recognize that much of the material presented in the Bible is there to inform us about historical events in such a way as to prevent us from repeating the mistakes of others and to encourage us to continue in obedience to God’s commands. (Romans 15:4)
  2.  Just because God commanded something in one situation doesn’t mean that it applies to all situations or even all similar situations.  We recognize that God’s commands are often given chronologically, i.e., that they build both upon each other and upon the fulfillment of previous prophesies.  While some commands are given to all people for all times (like the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5), others are given for a specific time and place and in order to accomplish a predetermined purpose.  Once that purpose is accomplished, that commandment becomes obsolete.  In cases like this passage, we recognize that the command was given to Israel for the purpose of providing for the people through whom God would bring His Messiah.  The command was not for all nations, nor for all times.
  3. When the application of a text is unclear, we don’t build a doctrine upon it.  There are some wonderful verses that, quite honestly, are just plain muddy and a few Biblical stories that leave us scratching our heads.  We may debate their meaning in a theological realm, but most mainline denominations refrain from turning their conclusions about them into dogma.
  4. We respect that while, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”  (Hebrews 1:1,2)  The Holy Spirit given on the Day of Pentecost now enables believers to commune with God and know His will for themselves without requiring the interpretation of spiritual leaders, i.e., each believer may think for himself and, through the Spirit, come to correct conclusions about the meaning of God’s Word.

How do these rules apply to the questions we have concerning our 2 Samuel passage?  To begin with, they help to debunk some popular falsehoods concerning the way Christians interpret and apply such passages.

For example, just because infants were killed during the invasion doesn’t mean that Christians support the execution of children.  Nor can it be inferred that just because an entire group of Amalekites was wiped out, Christians ought not to oppose racial warfare.  We recognize that this was a command given for a specific people at a specific time.  Indeed, Scripture is quite clear that human life it to be valued (Psalm 139:13, Jeremiah 1:5) and that killing and warfare are to be approached with great gravity.

Secondly, the account of ongoing hostilities between two Biblical nations doesn’t (as some claim) imply that acts of terrorism or unprovoked warfare are acceptable.  While I won’t deny that acts of unwarranted aggression have been committed in the name of Christ, you won’t find any mainline denomination suggesting that this ought to be the case.  There is no similarity between a war conducted against a physical aggressor and “surprise” action taken against an ideological one.  Indeed, though it always seems to be the ones who don’t who make the news, many Christians today will choose to suffer rather than take physical action even against a physical oppressor!

Finally, just because an event like this took place in the Bible doesn’t mean that Christians would follow after a prophet who attempted to recreate it in the present.  Indeed, the role of prophets in the end times (at least according to Revelation 11) will not be to establish an earthly people or kingdom, but to give others an opportunity to repent and turn to Christ.  No conquest involved.

If you’ve managed to read through each of these pieces and put yourself in the shoes of a Christian, you’ll have a pretty good idea why we don’t see any doctrinal contradiction between God’s wrath and God’s love.  (And why both sides of God’s character made it into the Christian canon!)  If you aren’t quite there yet, I encourage you to reread the articles carefully and then take some time to find out what other Christians have to say about the topic.  And if you’re already a believer?  Well, I hope this helps you well on your way to sorting through a few of the Bible’s sticky passages.

God of Wrath and Love: A Case Study in Doctrinal Non-contradiction Part IV

28 Dec

Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken a look at the apparent doctrinal conflict between the order to kill every Amalekite man woman and child (1 Samuel 15:2-3) and the statement of 2 Peter 3:9 that God would have all to be saved.  In Part I we explored the issue of guilt and innocence and the ways in which our presuppositions influence our understanding of these passages.  In Part II, we took a look at the plight of those who weren’t “guilty” through an act of commission, i.e., who weren’t sacrificing children or engaged in warmongering and the options available to them.  And in Part III, we examined the conflict in light of God’s mercy, love, and justice.  This week, we’ll conclude our series with a close look at one of the most important questions of the passage: What about the children and animals?

Before I begin my explanation, however, I need to provide a brief lesson in anthropology (the study of mankind).  Throughout much of its early history, anthropologists engaged in what is known as “etic” anthropology, i.e., they looked at cultures from the outside and drew broad conclusions about what they saw.  While this helped to explain similarities between cultures, it didn’t usually do much to explain the differences.  And, more importantly, it didn’t explain why those similarities or differences existed.

For this reason, “emic” anthropology grew in importance.  By immersing themselves in a culture (usually as a part of that culture), anthropologists could better understand the factors which influenced the people group in question and, through that understanding, were often able to explain the reasons for the similarities and differences.

It’s important to note that one of the keys to performing successful anthropology of any kind is an ability to approach each people group with neutrality and a willingness to acknowledge that what seems different in the group’s thinking or approach to life isn’t necessarily “wrong” just because it doesn’t look like our culture or system of belief.  This can be particularly difficult to do when it comes to highly charged topics like religion or political structure, but it needs to be done if a person really does desire to understand why Christians don’t see a conflict between the passages in question.

Let’s take a quick moment to review what we’ve learned so far and see if we can’t fill out our perspective:

  1. History demonstrates that the Amalekites as a people were not morally innocent.  They were guilty of both child sacrifice and warmongering, leaving us reason to believe the Biblical account that they were the first aggressors.
  2. Even many of the Amalekites who did not participate in these practices would have been guilty, merely because they chose not to speak up or rejected the opportunity to withdraw from the society either through embracing the God of Israel or finding another place to settle.
  3. God gave the Amalekites the ability to know the truth, hundreds of years to embrace what was morally right, and foreknowledge of Israel’s advance against them.
  4. Those who remained likely fought to defend their homes regardless of whether they were male or female and, as such, were aggressors and a threat.

From a Christian point of view, the battle is morally justifiable as a defensive action against a regular aggressor… even if God, Himself, had not commanded it through His prophet.  And yes, even the killing of those too young to participate in the action can be understood as being reasonable given the circumstances:

Many of those who could not participate in combat would have been old enough to remember the lifestyle they’d seen their parents’ exhibit.  The old saying that, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” is apropos.  Those who had witnessed child sacrifice, temple orgies, and warmongering would be predisposed to engage in the same activities themselves and, as such, their deaths may be seen as an act of mercy: God preventing them from even having the opportunity to commit the sins of their parents.

And the infants?  I’ll be honest: I can’t answer this one.  Were the Israelites incapable of taking in and supporting additional children?  Was it possible that as they grew, the Amalekite children would feel a deeper connection to the surrounding nations and chose to embrace those crimes as their parents had, despite the fact that they had not witnessed them previously?  Could the complete obliteration of these people serve as an act that benefited the “greater good,” serving as a warning concerning the potential fate of the rest of the Canaanites?  Did their deaths ensure that they would ultimately reside with God for eternity – something that might not have happened had they lived?  Truth be told, as a Christian, I can only claim that I believe the God of the Bible to be just, merciful, and loving… and I trust that whatever happened to these children will prove, in the end, to be just that.

What about the slaying of the animals mentioned in the passage?  The Scripture isn’t clear about the reason for this, but a careful look at the passage reveals that the Israelites were not ordered to kill every animal, but only the oxen, sheep, camels, and donkeys.   Since none of these animals were dietarily forbidden, it is possible that they were slaughtered in order to feed the army.

If you feel like you’re seeing a bit of circular reasoning here, you aren’t alone!  Most of us struggle to wrap our minds around thought processes unlike our own and it usually takes a willingness to sit down with people who think differently, to ask genuine (polite) questions, listen carefully to their answers, and ask further questions to clarify those answers before we begin to understand the way they think and why.  If you aren’t already a Christian, it may take some time to understand the Christian point of view.

Next week, we’ll tackle a follow up question to this article: What does the belief that this destruction was God’s Will mean for Christians today?  Are we to support or, worse yet, engage in genocide?  Should we participate in the murder of children?  These are good questions and we’ll take a look at each in turn.  In the meantime, I encourage you to take some time to examine the views of others (not just Christians) with an open mind and a willingness to learn.  You may be surprised at the understanding you gain!

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