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Posts Tagged ‘Jerome’


A Christian's Pocket Guide to How We Got the Bible (Pocket Guides)Another free book I got at the RTS Alumni and Friends lunch was How We Got the Bible: Old and New Testament Canon and Text by Greg Lanier. It is part of the Christian’s Pocket Guide series by Christian Focus books.

As the title indicates this is a brief introductory study into understanding why the books in the Bible are in the Bible and whether we have an accurate text. Modern scholarship and the media have been busy to undermine our confidence in the Scriptures, and Islam has also been at work to distort people’s view of the Scriptures.

Lanier briefly summarizes the need for this information. He addresses these questions in 6 chapters, though the last is just a few pages as he offers concluding thoughts. He wanted to provide a brief, non-academic book so lay people can have answers they need when challenges to the canon or the texts arise, and they do.

Canon has to do with which books belong, and don’t belong in the Bible. Textual criticism has to do with understanding which texts are the best, or most accurately reflect the original manuscripts.

He begins with understanding the Bible as a Divine Deposit. There have been books that have been discovered that some argue should be in the Bible. Novelists like Dan Brown have had popular stories that argue that the Church has conspired to keep these books out of the Bible. How can we know that these “lost books of the Bible” aren’t really part of the Bible?

Muslims often argue that the Church has changed the Bible since the rise of Islam since they think Muhammad is one of God’s prophets. They want their understanding of the Bible to supplant historic Christianity’s understanding of the Bible.

He defines Scripture as:

“the inspired deposit of writings received as divinely authoritative for the covenant community.”

This is an important definition. We believe they are writings that have been inspired or breathed by God. They were received by the covenant community. This is a distinctively Protestant view. We do not think the Church formed the canon, but rather received it. Scripture is also a covenant document intended for God’s people to know who He is, who we are with respect to Him, what He does for us and also what He requires of us. The first chapter unpacks these ideas in a succinct and clear fashion. It provides the foundation for the next 4 chapters in which he addresses the canon and then text of the Old and then New Testaments or covenants.

The question of the Old Testament canon identifies differences not only regarding “lost books” but differences between Protestants, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox with regard to the Apocrypha. Protestants recognize the Jewish canon, those books recognized by Jews as divinely inspired covenant documents. He explains the three-fold shape of the Old Testament: Law, Prophets and Writings. Law, or Torah, came first and relates the giving of the Old Covenant. The Prophets apply the covenant to the people in later times, and hold out the promise of the new covenant. These cite the Law as divinely inspired. Many of the prophets will also affirm the message of earlier prophets as divinely inspired, as well as often claiming such inspiration for themselves in prophetic formula. The writings contain sections also found in the Law and Prophets.

In terms of the Apocrypha there is little evidence that those books, or additional chapters were understood by Jewish communities as divinely inspired. In the early church there was little agreement about them. This means a few people may have included some of them but most did not. Augustine, for instance, affirmed all found in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Eastern Orthodox Church followed his lead. Jerome used them as helpful but did not admit them as authoritative. This view held in the Roman Church until the Council of Trent which declared they were part of Scripture.

The Protestant churches have followed Jerome in finding them (possibly) helpful but not authoritative for faith and life. Some, like Calvin, thought they could be helpful. Most Protestant Bibles don’t contain them, and they are not generally read by most Protestants.

Moving to the text themselves, Lanier discusses the kinds of manuscripts we have and how they compare with one another. Another factor is the translations of the Old Testament we have, which themselves are over 2,000 years old. Those would be Greek, Samaritan, Aramaic, Latin and others. As a result we have many manuscripts and fragments to compare and find the best to form the texts that serve as the basis for our modern translations. The God who inspired the Old Testament texts also preserved them sufficiently for us.

Lanier then moves on to the canon of the New Testament. Contrary to Dan Brown’s fictional assertions, there was no council to form the canon. The canon is those books that were used and recognized by the early church. In this he discusses the centrality of the gospel, or new covenant, eyewitnesses, oral and written records. Unlike the books we find in our Bibles, these “lost books” were not received and recognized by the early church. Those who affirmed them we recognized as heretics. There are some books that the early church did use, like the Didache, which they found helpful but never recognized as inspired and authoritative. We see this from how the church fathers write about them.

from NT Bad Arguments

We then move into the question of whether we have the right words. He brings up former Christian and current skeptic Bart Ehrman. He can’t thoroughly refute Ehrman’s arguments, but generally refutes them. He mentions the Muslim doctrine of tahrif al-nass which states that “Jews and Christians have intentionally corrupted the text. As a result the NT doesn’t mention Muhammad (let’s ignore that it was written 500+ years before Muhammad). The text that Muhammad affirmed in 600 is older than many of the manuscripts we have today. Their doctrine is an illogical red herring.

He begins with discussing where our English Bible comes from. This refers to the formation of the Greek texts used in the vast majority of translations. We return to the large number of manuscripts available to us that have been found in archeological digs and copies by scribes. The relative number of differences is small, and largely insignificant. He discusses scribal errors and corrections, as well as how the better copyists provided marginal notes which help us as well. We also have ancient Latin, Syriac and Coptic translations.

He does all of this efficiently. He doesn’t ignore issues or sweep them under the rug. He instead shows how we’ve worked to find the oldest and best manuscripts to get closest to the autographs using a variety of sources. Integrity is revealed in our footnotes where the most significant issues in our translations are there for all to see. Lanier handles the task well and understandably. You won’t be an expert after reading this, but you’ll have a good idea of how to address many of the most significant objections raised.

I will close with his closing thoughts.

  1. We should be clear on what Scripture is in the first place.
  2. We should have confidence that we do have the ‘right’ OT/NT books.
  3. We should have confidence that we have the ‘right’ words of the OT/NT.

“How did we get the Bible? The answer to this question driving this book is clear. ‘Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,’ and the written deposit has been transmitted in the covenant community with high integrity, by the providence of God, ever since. Through these Scriptures, we are all, now, witnesses of these things: Christ suffered and died and on the third day rose again, so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins may be proclaimed to all the nations.”

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Last year I came across Nick Needham’s 4-volume series, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power. I thought it would be an interesting read, and one I could possibly use with my kids in the high school years.

Needham used to teach church history in Nigeria. He longed for a readable, well-rounded textbook for his students. So he wrote one.

For 2018, I decided to read the set. One volume per quarter should make for relatively easy reading. The opening volume has 12 chapters, so I read a little more than a chapter per week. I would generally read in the morning after my time in the Scriptures. It was a reasonable goal, and for the first volume it worked quite well. At 400 hundred pages, I averaged about 50 per week. This was fairly easy since I like to break at the end of a section, and he divided each chapter up into around 4 sections.

The first volume is entitled The Age of the Early Church Fathers. The chapter listings are helpful to see the scope of the volume. It has a strong commitment to Eastern Christianity, as well as a chapter on African Christianity, focused on Alexandria and Carthage. Due to the time frame covered here, there is plenty of focus on heretical movements and Christological development. There is a progression from persecuted minority to Christianity as a dominant but divided faith in the Roman Empire.

Designed for education, each chapter has a list of key people and then a sampling of writing from some of them. At times he used footnotes to point you to more detailed information in the series about a person to whom he refers. He has a glossary of terms in the back of each volume.

He begins with historical information about Rome and Israel. The globalism movement of today isn’t new, but is an echo of the Roman Empire. He mentions the common philosophies of the time. In Israel, he summarizes the various groups exerting influence on the people.

From there he moves into the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem to include Gentiles and eventually be dominated by Gentiles. The Jewish War saw the fall of the Sadducees from power and influence, the Zealots and Essenes essentially wiped out, and the Pharisees left as the controlling force of post-war Judaism. They condemned Christians and Christianity became almost entirely Gentile in make up.

Needham moves into persecution and the Church’s response in a series of Apologists defending the faith. This includes information about early worship services.

“For it is through faith that Almighty God has justified all people that have ever lived from the beginning of time.” Clement of Rome

The rise of the Gnostic heresies lead to the development of symbols or creeds. He also discussed the Apologists who responded to Gnosticism. The faithful church so separated itself from the Gnostic “Christians”, calling themselves Catholic or universal. The emphasis was on the same faith they held in contrast to the idiosyncratic faith of different (often small) Gnostic groups claiming to be Christian. At the same time, another group arose known as the Montanists, which believed God had sent a new wave of prophets who spoke mostly about the nearness of Christ’s return. They were a proto-Charismatic group focused on dreams, visions, speaking in tongues and a strict lifestyle including fasting, celibacy and martyrdom. At a time when the Catholic Church was seeking greater unity due to Gnosticism, the Montanists created further division and often condemned those who didn’t embrace their teaching.

You can’t discuss the early church without discussing the influence of Alexandria and Carthage. Needham introduces people to Clement, Origen, Tertullian and Cyprian. These men would exert a great influence over the Church for hundreds of years. It was not always for the better, but they certainly left their mark.

Soon the Church wouldn’t be fighting for its life as toleration grew and eventually Constantine legalized Christianity. Now the Church began to focus on theological formulation. Most of this centered on Christ. Initially it was the problem of Arianism (Jesus was the first created Being). Needham also brings in developments in Church leadership, organization and worship. There is also some discussion of the Canon of Scripture. With legitimacy came laziness and the response of monasticism to escape the worldliness that entered the Church.

There is a whole chapter on the Arian Controversy that he mentioned in chapter 7. One of the strengths of the volume is its tracing Christological developments in the Church. While not as deep as it could be, he brings in a broader depth then I’ve seen many books on Christology. They usually end with Chalcedon, as if that answered all the questions. When Needham gets there, he addresses how the Eastern Church was still divided in their understanding of Chalcedon. These theological differences often included political components as dissent from Constantinople blended theological disagreement and the push for independence which would foreshadow the Reformation in some ways.

Tucked between the Arian Controversy and the post-Nicene Christological controversies is a chapter on John Chrysostom, Jerome and Augustine of Hippo. Both John and Augustine were children of privilege (Jerome as well) with loving, faithful mothers who doted on them. John represented the Antiochene method of biblical interpretation which focused on grammar and history rather than the more allegorical Alexandrian method. Like Augustine and Jerome, he struggled with sexual temptation. Rather than get a wife, he also fled from close relationships with women (with one exception later in life). His time as a hermit with fasting and sleep deprivation did great damage to his health. Known for his preaching, he was essentially kidnapped by imperial forces to become the Patriarch of Constantinople. He didn’t fit in well there and angered many of the political elites. This is one of the passages that gives us insight into the worldly political games that entered the Church. His enemies got the authorities to stop the annual baptism service on the eve before Easter. 400 soldiers entered the church and mayhem and bloodshed ensued. Eventually Chrysostom was exiled to a remote, inhospitable fortress town. The escort was instructed to give no regard to his well-being. He would never make it to the fortress as the scorching sun and hard rains brought him to his death on the journey.

“Glory be to God for all things.” The last words of John Chrysostom

Jerome was a scholar schooled in philosophy who traveled throughout the East, spending time in the Syrian desert avoiding women and learning Hebrew. Jerome brings us into a discussion of the Apocrypha. Jerome advocated for following the Jewish canon. Others included books found in the Septuagint. The Church remains split on the Apocrypha to this day. The Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church receive them, while Protestants and the Russian Orthodox Church view them as less than Scripture.

As I noted, one of the strengths of this book is the focus on the Christological controversies. Needham returns to them in the struggle between the theologians from Antioch and Alexandrians. Some of their differences resulted from the different methods of biblical interpretation, some from different use of technical terms and some from different emphases. Antioch emphasized the two natures of Christ, while Alexandria emphasized the one person. Sounds overly reductionistic but I’ve noted that in disagreements we tend to harden our positions and get more extreme. Both schools of thought had their extremes which seem to be mistaken at times for the norm. The charge of being Nestorian is still tossed out by Eastern Orthodox to Protestants, Lutherans to Reformed regarding our views of the Supper, etc. We easily forget that distinction is not the same as dividing. We can easily forget that all Jesus does He does as one person, so we can speak of Mary as the theotokos or sing that “that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me.” And so Needham brings us from Nicea to Chalcedon.

He then interrupts the Christology to talk about the Germans, or the Germanic tribes pushed out of eastern Europe by Attila the Hun. They were largely Arian Christians and Pagans. They spread to the West and a number of them sacked Rome, North Africa and Gaul. He delves into the contrast between Celtic and Roman Christianity and how the latter finally prevailed through the British Isles.

He then returns East with a focus on the on-going post-Chalcedon Christological controversy and the political fall out. Much of this will likely be new to Western Christians for whom Christology was generally seen as resolved at Chalcedon. This can help them in their interacts with Eastern Orthodox Christians.

This was a very readable and helpful volume. Needham struck a good balance between depth and breadth in what he communicated. It was not dry as some church histories can be. The larger type also means it seems less intimidating despite the 4 volumes. I look forward to reading the rest of this series over the coming months.

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It is really strange that maturity would be considered a neglected aspect of discipleship.  I know I mention it regularly in preaching.  But, seeing as how the evangelical world is fairly shallow spiritually, John Stott is probably wise to bring it up in The Radical Disciple.

Stott begins by lamenting the explosive growth of the Church in the non-western world because it is about as superficial as the Christianity of the West.  Thanks to satellite and the internet we get to share our ignorance with them.  The world over, the Church is lacking depth in biblical knowledge and therefore character, or maturity.

The Scriptures, on the other hand, instruct us that such immaturity is “unnatural”.  Babies are meant to seek milk and grow up.  There are many Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 3, Ephesians 4 and Hebrews 6 that remind us that it is natural that we move toward maturity.  If we aren’t, there is some sort of dysfunction taking place- just like a teenager who doesn’t get taller and stronger.

The end of Colossians 1 is my “mission statement” as a pastor.  I strive to present everyone mature in Christ.  Since we are “in Christ” or vitally united to Him, “to be mature is to have a mature relationship with Christ in which we worship, trust, love and obey him.”  One of the problems we face is that people tend to create a Jesus in their own image (based on ethnicity, politics or ethics) rather than becoming conformed to the likeness of the real Jesus.  This is what idol factories do.

“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”  Jerome

Instead our “image” of Christ must also be shaped by Scripture.  It, not our preferences or vain imaginings, must determine who we worship.  That is because, according to Scripture, we become like what we worship (this is one of the problems with idols revealed by the prophets).

Back to Colossians 1, unlike many pastors or evangelists, Paul was not content with conversions.  He saw evangelism as leading directly into discipleship.  We are not to merely make converts, but disciples (Mt. 28).  We are to strive in His power to present the as mature in  Christ by proclaiming Christ to everyone.  We have lots of work to do.

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