How A Recent Book Increases Confidence In The Reliability Of The New Testament Text

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John 7:53-8:11  7:53“Everyone went to his home. 8:1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” 6 They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. 7 But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. 10 Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”

Introduction:

The account of the woman caught in adultery and Jesus’ exoneration of her from being stoned is perhaps one the most beloved portions in John’s Gospel. However, the textual history of these twelve verses has caused many New Testament scholars today to doubt their authenticity. Although English translations such as the KJV and NKJV include these verses as original to John’s Gospel, more recent translations and even recent critical editions of the Greek New Testament raise questions. Translations such as the New American Standard Bible (NASB) use brackets or double brackets to distinguish John 7:53-8:11 from the surrounding text. Other translations such as the English Standard Version (ESV) have a textual note such as the following:

“[The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53–8:11.]”

One recent edition of the Greek New Testament, the SBL text (produced by the Society Of Biblical Literature) has chosen to not even include John 7:53-8:11 in it’s text of John’s Gospel! In the footnotes section at the end of this post, I have included the full Greek Text of John 7:53-8:11 for those wanting to see what the text looks like in the original language.1

Whenever we see such notations or treatments of the Biblical text such as the examples above, what are we to conclude? Indeed, one must be honest when dealing with any portion of scripture. There are times when the science of textual criticism can aid greatly in showing which readings are original and which were the result of later scribes hand-copying the ancient Greek manuscripts and other ancient versions. But is the wide-spread doubt of John 7:53-8:11 being original to John’s Gospel warranted? This blogger thinks not and has recently completed reading a wonderful book that asserts the confidence one can have in the New Testament text.

Author James Snapp Jr. has written a thorough and clear book entitled: “A Fresh Analysis Of John 7:53-8:11 – With a Tour Of The External Evidence”. The book does contain some technical discussions and examples of citations from Greek and Latin sources. Nonetheless, Snapp translates each source he cites, making the book accessible for any reader wanting to better understand the textual issues surrounding John 7:53-8:11. In the Amazon electronic edition I read, we find the following summary:

Because John 7:53-8:11 (the pericope adulterae — the passage about the adulteress) is not found in some early manuscripts, some scholars have called for the removal of the passage from the text of the Gospels. In response, textual critic James Snapp Jr. offers this informative defense of the genuineness of the passage, with a detailed analysis of external and internal evidence (much of which is hardly ever mentioned in popular commentaries). Snapp offers a definitive explanation of why the passage, originally part of the text of the Gospel of John, is not in some early manuscripts, and why, in some other manuscripts, the passage is found in different locations in the Gospels-text.

The book’s central idea is stated as follows:

“In the case at hand, I submit the following hypothesis: John 7:53-8:11 was in an exemplar used by a copyist in Egypt in the mid-100’s-having descended to it from the autograph.”

When James Snapp refers to “exemplar”, he is speaking of a source document from which other copies were made. In terms of the term “autograph”, this has to do with the original manuscripts of the New Testament documents composed by the Apostles or their associates under the Divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. With his main thesis stated, Snapp will then answer the following question: what evidence does the book contain for John 7:53-8:11 as being original to John’s Gospel?

First, Snapp explores the so-called “External Evidence” (that is, all the available Greek copies of John, ancient translations and texts of John 7:53-8:11 as they appear in ancient church scripture reading materials or “lectionaries”). Below is a summary of the “external evidence” explored in the book:

1. Early Greek Manuscripts (that is, ancient hand-written copies of John’s Gospel from the fourth centuries onward)

2. Early Versions (that is, ancient translations from the Greek manuscripts)

3. Lectionaries (that is, scriptures read by the early church in their annual observances of Christian holidays and feasts)

4. Writings of the early church (that is, books written by the generations of church leaders following the Apostles. These leaders were known as “the church fathers”)

5. Marks that accompany John 7:53-8:11 (or 8:3-11) in some copies (that is, scribal marks or symbols in the ancient manuscripts that contained or did not contain John 7:53-8:11)

6. Notes about John 7:53-8:11 in some copies (that is, editorial notes contained in manuscripts explaining why the passage was kept or excluded)

7. Variations in the location of the passage (that is, John 7:53-8:11 occurring at the end of John in some manuscripts or in Luke 21 in other manuscripts) 

8. Augustine’s Theory of Excision (that is, the 5th century church father Augustine’s knowledge of the nature of John 7:53-8:11 and why it is missing in some manuscripts.

After the external evidence, Snapp then explores the language, vocabulary and relationship of John 7:53-8:11 to the rest of John’s Gospel, or what is called “the internal evidence”. Then as a third and final area of focus in putting the issues of John 7:53-8:11 into view, Snapp deals with general discussions of the passage by New Testament scholarship. Such conversations entail apologetical concerns one may have in preaching situations or conversations with unbelievers. Overall, James Snapp covers much ground in his relatively short work (106 pages). The coverage is thorough and the arguments made present a compelling case for John 7:53-8:11 being original to John’s Gospel and worthy of being preached and treated as inspired scripture by Christians in their everyday lives. 

Closing

In reading Snapp’s work, this author has been reinforced in the conclusion that John 7:53-8:11 is original to John’s Gospel and worthy of the title “inspired, canonical scripture” beyond a reasonable doubt. Readers can click on the following link where I review James Snapp’s book. https://www.amazon.com/review/R3AP98L9IB7RSK/ref=pe_1098610_137716200_cm_rv_eml_rv0_rv

I commend it to anyone desiring to increase their confidence in the reliability of the New Testament text (as well as the fact the book only costs $0.99 as a Kindle download)!

Endnote:

1. John 7:53-8:11 (Greek Text) 7:53 και επορευθη εκαστος εις τον οικον αυτου 8:1 ιησους δε επορευθη εις το ορος των ελαιων 2 ορθρου δε παλιν παρεγενετο εις το ιερον και πας ο λαος ηρχετο προς αυτον και καθισας εδιδασκεν αυτους
3 αγουσιν δε οι γραμματεις και οι φαρισαιοι προς αυτον γυναικα εν μοιχεια κατειλημμενην και στησαντες αυτην εν μεσω 4 λεγουσιν αυτω διδασκαλε αυτη η γυνη κατειληφθη επαυτοφωρω μοιχευομενη 5 εν δε τω νομω μωσης ημιν ενετειλατο τας τοιαυτας λιθοβολεισθαι συ ουν τι λεγεις
6 τουτο δε ελεγον πειραζοντες αυτον ινα εχωσιν κατηγορειν αυτου ο δε ιησους κατω κυψας τω δακτυλω εγραφεν εις την γην 7 ως δε επεμενον ερωτωντες αυτον ανακυψας ειπεν προς αυτους ο αναμαρτητος υμων πρωτος τον λιθον επ αυτη βαλετω 8 και παλιν κατω κυψας εγραφεν εις την γην
9 οι δε ακουσαντες και υπο της συνειδησεως ελεγχομενοι εξηρχοντο εις καθ εις αρξαμενοι απο των πρεσβυτερων εως των εσχατων και κατελειφθη μονος ο ιησους και η γυνη εν μεσω εστωσα 10 ανακυψας δε ο ιησους και μηδενα θεασαμενος πλην της γυναικος ειπεν αυτη η γυνη που εισιν εκεινοι οι κατηγοροι σου ουδεις σε κατεκρινεν 11 η δε ειπεν ουδεις κυριε ειπεν δε αυτη ο ιησους ουδε εγω σε κατακρινω πορευου και μηκετι αμαρτανε

 

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The Importance Of Including The Greek Old Testament – The Septuagint – In One’s Study Of The Bible

Jonah 1:1-3 Καὶ ἐγένετο λόγος κυρίου πρὸς Ιωναν τὸν τοῦ Αμαθι λέγων 2᾿Ανάστηθι καὶ πορεύθητι εἰς Νινευη τὴν πόλιν τὴν μεγάλην καὶ κήρυξον ἐν αὐτῇ, ὅτι ἀνέβη ἡ κραυγὴ τῆς κακίας αὐτῆς πρός με. 3καὶ ἀνέστη Ιωνας τοῦ φυγεῖν εἰς Θαρσις ἐκ προσώπου κυρίου καὶ κατέβη εἰς Ιοππην καὶ εὗρεν πλοῖον βαδίζον εἰς Θαρσις καὶ ἔδωκεν τὸ ναῦλον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐνέβη εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦ πλεῦσαι μετ᾽ αὐτῶν εἰς Θαρσις ἐκ προσώπου κυρίου. (Septuagint, Greek Old Testament)

Jonah 1:1 “NOW the word of the Lord came to Jonas the son of Amathi, saying, Rise, and go to Nineve, the great city, and preach in it; for the cry of its wickedness is come up to me. But Jonas rose up to flee to Tharsis from the presence of the Lord. And he went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tharsis: and he paid his fare, and went up into it, to sail with them to Tharsis from the presence of the Lord.” (Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton’s English Translation of the Septuagint)

Jonah 1:1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 3 But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.(NASB)

Introduction:

Today’s post will aim to aquaint the reader with the Greek translation of the Old Testament – the Septuagint, and its significance for studying the scriptures. Over the years I have found acquaintance with the Septuagint to be helpful in the study of both Old and New Testament scriptures. Thankfully, one does not have to know Greek to study the Septuagint. English translations such as the one quoted above from Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton are available for free online here: https://archive.org/details/septuagintversio1879bren

Whenever the New Testament authors quote the Old Testament, the vast majority of those quotations derive from the Greek Old Testament. Knowing such a feature of the New Testament ought to prompt at least a peek into the Septuagint. What makes the Greek Old Testament a fascinating study is in how it came to be used in both the ancient Jews and later Christian congregations spawning from the days of Christ and the Apostles. Pictured below is a page from a 5th century A.D. Greek manuscript known as Codex Siniaticus, which contains both the Old and New Testament in Greek:

codex_sinaiticus

Before we get to the Septuagint, we need to first understand the original language text of the Old Testament – the Hebrew Bible. Additionally, the Dead Sea Scrolls and their relevance to the Septuagint in studying the text of scripture will also be briefly considered. The following overview will be but a quick fly-over, with the goal to arrive at noting a couple of significant reasons for gaining further familiarity with the Greek translation of the Old Testament – The Septuagint. 

A quick overview of the Hebrew Bible and its relationship to our English Bible

Whenever we study the Old Testament, we typically will begin with whichever English translation we have in our possession. The King James, New King James and the Modern English Version have their Old Testaments based upon the 16th century Hebrew Bible edited by Jacob ben Hayyim ibn Adonijah (called the “Ben Chayyim Text” or “Bomberg Bible”). Virtually every modern English translation on the market has for its underlying text in the Old Testament the Hebrew text of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgarnsia. The reason why English translations of the Old Testament rely upon the Hebrew text is due to it being the original language in which God revealed the Old Testament (with 2-3% accounting for Aramaic portions in Daniel and Ezra and a couple verses in Genesis and Jeremiah).

The Hebrew Bible as we have it today in the academic critical editions of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgarnsia is based upon high quality Hebrew manuscripts from the Middle Ages, chiefly of which is found in what is believed to be the best representative of the Hebrew textual tradition, the Lenningrad Codex manuscript from the 11th century A.D (pictured below):

 

leningrad_genesis1

The Hebrew text of these manuscripts derives from copyists and scribes called the “Masoretes”. The Masoretes spent centuries developing a system of vowel points and textual markings to preserve the pronunciation and sentence structure of the Hebrew text for purposes of public reading and study. Although the manuscripts of the Masoretic text derive from the earlier part of the Middle Ages, the origins of the text go back much further and represents the most important resource for recovering the original text of the Hebrew Bible.

A quick overview of the Dead Sea scrolls and their relevance to bridging us from the Hebrew Masoretic Text to the Greek Old Testament

Many readers will undoubtedly recognize reference to the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls – hundreds of scrolls discovered in the late 1940’s in 11 caves around the Dead Sea area. We won’t focus too much on the Dead Sea Scrolls, only to say that their dating takes us back to a full 1,000 years before the Masoretic Hebrew manuscripts mentioned above. Below is a picture of one of the Dead Sea Scrolls – the so-called “Isaiah Scroll” from Cave 4 (image from Benchmark Books):

isaiah-scroll-qumeran-cave

What makes the Dead Sea Scrolls interesting as a collection is that over 50% or more of the wording in those manuscripts  supports readings we find the Masoretic text. The majority of the remaining wording and sentence structure of the Dead Sea Scrolls matches what we find in the first translation ever made of the Hebrew Old Testament – The Greek translation of the Septuagint. Below is pictured what scholars believe to be the current possible relationship between the Hebrew Moseretic text, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Greek Septuagint (at least to the King James Version, but roughly speaking, we can trace a similar lineage to other English translations). 

old-testament-origins-chart

The Value of the Greek Old Testament – The Septuagint – To The Study Of The Biblical Text

Having surveyed both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Dead Sea Scrolls, we now turn to the intended focal point of this post – the Septuagint. When we say “Septuagint”, the Greek Septuagint was the first translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, beginning with the Pentateuch or first five books of Moses in 275 b.c. Throughout the centuries leading up to within a century before Christ,the remainder of the Septuagint translation project would eventually get completed. This fact of the Septuagint being the first translation makes it invaluable and fascinating for studying the Old Testament text. As seen in the opening quotation of Jonah 1:1-3, reliable English translations of the Greek Septuagint are available in print and electronic form.

A second significant reason to include the Greek Old Testament in one’s study of the Biblical text is not only for Old Testament, but New Testament studies. The presence of the Greek Old Testament among the Jews of Jesus’ day is  demonstrated by the amount of times the Apostles quote it when referring to the Old Testament in the Gospels, Acts, Epistles and Revelation. Bible Scholar Michael S. Heiser writes in the 2010 volume of the periodical “Bible and Spade”, Volume 23:1, in an article: “The Role Of The Septuagint In The Transmission Of The Scriptures” on how the Septuagint related to the ministry of Jesus, the Apostles and the early church:

“The real lesson that we learn from the transmission and use of the LXX is that the apostles—and Jesus himself— had no qualms about considering that translation the true Word of God. There is no evidence that Jesus or Paul or any other NT writer preferred a personal text over the texts available in synagogues, or that the hand-copied texts in synagogues had no variation. The fact that there were several non-identical Hebrew OT texts and Greek translations of those texts in circulation at the time generated no interest from Jesus and the apostles. What Providence had supplied and preserved was deemed completely sufficient. The early Church had the same attitude. Most Christians in the first four centuries of the Church could read only Greek. The LXX was their complete Bible.”

Closing thoughts:

Today we began considering the importance of the Septuagint in the study of the Bible. We noted its history and relationship to the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea scrolls and the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles. We also saw its importance in being a major witness to the history of the Old Testament by virtue of it being the world’s first translation of the Hebrew text. Finally, we noted briefly how good English translations of the Septuagint are available today, making access to the Septuagint a feasible endeavor for those desiring to study it. 

 

 

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Taking a Closer Look At The Meaning Of God’s Wrath In Romans 1:18

thunder-and-lightening

Romans 1:18 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” (NASB)

Romans 1:18 “αποκαλυπτεται γαρ οργη θεου απ ουρανου επι πασαν ασεβειαν και αδικιαν ανθρωπων των την αληθειαν εν αδικια κατεχοντων.” (Stephanus’ Greek Text 1550)

Introduction:

Perhaps no attribute of God is more shunned by theologians, preachers and Christians nor is any Divine attribute more despised by the unbelieving culture than God’s wrath. I say this to underscore what the Apostle Paul emphasizes in the beginning part of his discussion of the Gospel in Romans 1:18 – namely the wrath of God. In this post I want to sketch out the meaning, theological-significance and life-practical importance of God’s wrath.

Understanding The Meaning Of God’s Wrath In Romans 1:18 And The Wider Biblical Material

The word Paul uses in Romans 1:18 to describe God’s wrath is the word “orge” (οργη). To grasp this word’s meaning, we will first consider the meaning of the word itself and then follow-up with what the remainder of the Old and New Testament has to teach on God’s wrath.

To begin with the meaning of “orge” in Romans 1:18, theologian James Leo Garrett in his Systematic Theology defines “orge” as follows:

“Orgē, meaning “wrath, anger, or indignation,” is the more generally used term and is to be found especially in Romans and in Revelation. Sometimes this wrath is specifically directed at unbelievers or the disobedient (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6). Law with its consequent disobedience brings forth wrath (Rom. 4:15), divine wrath expresses vengeance (Rom. 12:19), and such wrath can even be executed by civil rulers (Rom. 13:4c, 5). Elsewhere the reference is to future wrath to come (Matt. 3:7; 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9; Rom. 2:5, 8; 5:9).”

In Louw and Nida’s Greek Lexicon of Semantic Domains, the thrust of this word’s meaning is described as follows:

“Though the focal semantic element in ὀργή is punishment, at the same time there is an implication of God’s anger because of evil. Therefore, it is possible in some languages to translate this expression in Ro 3:5 as ‘God does not do wrong when he is angry and punishes us, does he?’”

One of the greatest expositors of the twentieth century, Donald Grey Barnhouse, preached a series of sermons on the book of Romans. In his sermon on Romans 1:18, he noted how the two leading Greek words in the Greek New Testament translated “wrath” deal with the heat of God’s anger or displeasure, and how it is dispensed against sin. One of those words (“thumos”) speaks of His wrath poured out in volume and immediacy, whereas our word in Romans 1:18 “orge” has to do with God’s displeasure released in a gradual fashion or retained until a later time. 

As one surveys the over 180 Old and New Testament passages concerning God’s wrath and the various corresponding Hebrew and Greek words rendered by our English word “wrath”, the following insights come into view:

a. Over 30 places in the Old Testament depict God’s wrath as his displeasure expressed in fatherly discipline towards His people or as a broken-hearted husband toward and unfaithful wife. In 2 Chronicles 36:21 for instance we read: “but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy.” The Hebrew word translated “wrath” is ch-math (חֲמַת) and has a similar meaning to the Greek word discussed above. Not once do we find God’s wrath expressed in a capricious fashion in any of these instances or in all of the other contexts we find the concept of wrath in the Bible.

b. In at least 22 places in the Old Testament we find God’s wrath expressed as a King whose subjects (the nation of Israel) have committed treason against His holy character (see examples Joshua 22:20 and Psalm 2:12).

c. Nearly 20 places in the Old Testament find God expressing His wrath as the Holy Just Judge over the nations (for instance, Jeremiah 10:10). 

d. As we survey the remainder of the Old Testament, one surprisingly finds God’s wrath as a motivating attribute in prompting people to seek His overtures of grace in mercy. In 11 spots we find God’s wrath as a black cloth highlighting His true desire to show mercy (examples are Isaiah 63:3,5; Jeremiah 32:37). In 17 places God gives ample warning to people to repent and turn from their wickedness as well as how they can clearly avoid His wrath (such examples are 2 Chronicles 19:10 and Ezekiel 5:13,15).

e.  One major category of God’s wrath that gradually develops throughout the Old Testament and tends to be the dominate focal point of God’s wrath in the New Testament is the final or eschatological wrath He will pour out at final judgment. Old Testament examples of eschatological wrath are found in Zephaniah 1:15, 18 and New Testament passages involving New Testament wrath entail such texts as Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7; 21:23; John 3:36; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:19 and at least a dozen passages in the Book of Revelation.   

f. As a final observation on the meaning of the word wrath in the Biblical material, we discover that the New Testament envisions law enforcement as a Divinely ordained means of carrying out God’s justice or wrath in a temporal sense in such passages as Romans 12:9; 13:4 and Hebrews 11:27. 

There could be other comments made, but the sampling of above texts should suffice to help us see the various ways in which God’s wrath is expressed in the Biblical material. To summarize what is going on in Romans 1:18 with respect to the word “wrath”, we could classify Paul’s reference as having to do with present wrath that, if unheeded, will find connection to that ultimate wrath of God in the final judgment. To offer a plain definition of “wrath” as read in Romans 1:18 and other similar texts, God’s wrath is: “God’s measured, holy and justified aggression against mankind’s unholy and unjustified sin.”

Theologically understanding God’s wrath in relationship to His attributes and actions

With the Biblical and exegetical material above, how do we fit God’s wrath in our overall understanding of God Himself? The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, page 1304, has the following to say about God’s wrath: 

“In the total biblical portrayal the wrath of God is not so much an emotion or angry frame of mind as it is the settled opposition of His holiness to evil. Accordingly, the wrath of God is seen in its effects, in God’s punishment of sin in this life and in the next. These inflictions include pestilence, death, exile, destruction of wicked cities and nations, hardening of hearts, and the cutting off of the people of God for idolatry or unbelief. The day of wrath is God’s final judgment against sin, his irrevocable condemnation of impenitent sinners.”

Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology sheds particular light on why Paul is including God’s wrath in Romans:

“The whole argument of the Apostle in his Epistle to the Romans is founded on the principle that justice is a divine attribute distinct from benevolence. His argument is: God is just. All men are sinners. All, therefore, are guilty, i.e., under condemnation. Therefore no man can be justified, i.e., pronounced not guilty, on the ground of his character or conduct. Sinners cannot satisfy justice. But what they could not do, Christ, the Eternal Son of God, clothed in our nature, has done for them. He has brought in everlasting righteousness, which meets all the demands of the law. All those who renounce their own righteousness, and trust to the righteousness of Christ, God justifies and saves.

When we think of God’s wrath, it truly is His justice in action. God’s just and righteous wrath is the negative expression of goodness in hatred of whatever opposes or tramples upon His righteous character. If we think of God’s wrath as a counterpart opposite to love, God’s love is His positive expression of goodness that supports that which is in lines with His righteous character.

God’s attributes all hang together and function together like a perfect orchestra. Theologians often refer to what is Divine simplicity, which means that God and His attributes are one-in-the same. If you monkey around in trying to alter any of God’s attributes, you no-longer have the God of the Bible.

Illustrating how God’s attributes function together like One, Perfect Orchestra 

In orchestral music, when a composer wants to enrich the music, the component of “counter-point” will be added resulting in two different melodies coming together into one harmonic whole. One fine example of “counterpoint” is in the following link to Mozart’s “The D. Major Quintet”. Thankfully, the following video link has helpful colors and arrows to aid the listener in identifying the concept of counterpoint here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQbxsGtyc2g.

If one listens to such awe inspiring music (whether Mozart or the musical scores of the Star Wars movies), the richness of such music will include this element of counterpoint. When we focus on the God of sacred scripture, God is the quintessential Perfect Being that includes uninterrupted counterpoint among all His attributes. If God did not have wrath among His attributes, we would have a God that loves everything: including sin, injustice and unrighteousness. God’s wrath, we could say, is the counterpoint to His love. The moment we omit wrath, we omit God! Why? Since God is His attributes, we cannot avoid doing away with the Biblical conception of God. Just as unthinkable it would be to eliminate God’s love and expect there to remain the Biblical God, so it is with love’s counterpoint attribute of wrath. 

Life-practical considerations of the wrath of God for today

We have looked at the meaning of God’s wrath in Romans 1:18 and the wider Biblical material as well as the theological significance of God’s wrath. In this final segment of today’s post, we want to draw our discussion to a close by consider the applicability of God’s wrath to our lives. 

First, we need to understand how God’s wrath aids in understanding the urgency of the great commission in sharing the Gospel. The Apostle Paul doesn’t hold off mentioning God’s wrath until the end of Romans, instead, wrath is the first thing mentioned in the main body of Paul’s theological exposition of the Gospel. If one were to outline Romans 1:18-2:4 (which represents Paul’s first leg of arguments in showing why people need the Gospel), we could offer the following:

I. God’s Warning From Heaven. Romans 1:18

II. General Truths Everyone Knows. Romans 1:19-20

A. God’s power or “omni-attributes”. 

B. God’s character or “moral attributes, like goodness, holiness, wrath.”

III. Great Crisis Impacting Everyone. Romans 1:21-2:3

A. Preference of things over God. 1:21-24

B. Preference of lies to truth. 1:25-26a

C. Preference of man’s plans to God’s purpose. 1:26b-28

D. Preference of their own destruction to God’s best. 1:29-2:3

IV. God’s remedy you must receive. Romans 2:4

If Paul did not include God’s wrath in his presentation of the Gospel, it would not make sense why the Gospel is such good news. After all, what are we “saved from”? Romans 5:9-10 plainly states that we are saved from God’s wrath. Thus, wrath helps us to better understand the urgency of the great commission. 

Secondly, God’s wrath and the pressure it places on a man’s moral sense to turn about from their course of persistent sin points us to God’s mercy. As we saw already in the survey of the above Biblical texts on wrath, many texts feature God’s wrath as a backdrop to put into sharp relief His ultimate desire to see men repent. Passages such as John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9 are great texts on the mercy and grace of God. However, those verses appear as diamonds in contexts where the black silk cloth of God’s wrath is pressing the need to repent, believe and be saved. If anything, the wrath of God highlights for those whose hearts are opening to the truth the other attributes of God (such as mercy, love, grace). As we noted already, we cannot conceive of God’s attributes as isolated from one another. 

As a final point of application, God’s fair warnings of wrath show us how just and loving He truly is towards those who otherwise do not deserve His grace. Warnings are not intended to harm, but help. If God’s wrath were not being revealed from heaven at this current time, man could have an excuse. Luke writes in Acts 14:16-17In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 

God is giving space at this current time. Moreover, God’s wrath was poured out on His Son to secure the safe harbor for sinners to flee to in what will be the ultimate wrath to come (Romans 5:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:10). In such texts as these, we understand God demonstrating His love. Again, if we didn’t have God’s wrath, the Gospel wouldn’t make sense.

Closing thoughts

Today we took a closer look at God’s wrath in Romans 1:18. We first saw how it is developed in Romans 1:18 and the wider Biblical witness through a combination of word studies and the Biblical material. We suggested the following meaning of wrath: “God’s measured, holy and justified aggression against mankind’s unholy and unjustified sin.” Secondly, we explored how God’s wrath is theological significant in light of His other attributes, His character and the overall Biblical portrayal of God. Lastly, we considered some life-practical ramifications of God’s wrath, noting how it adds urgency to evangelism, highlights God’s other attributes like mercy and makes sense of the Gospel. May we in the church be not ashamed of God’s wrath. May we compassionately and honestly include this important attribute of God in our conversations with people about Him. As we grow in our walk with God, may we praise Him for His salvation in saving those who believe, as a result of His grace, from the wrath to come. As theologian R.C Sproul has noted in times past: “We are saved from God, by God, for God.” 

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How to listen to and apply an exegetical sermon

Bible

Psalm 1:1-2How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LordAnd in His law he meditates day and night.”

1 Timothy 4:16 “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”

Introduction:

To exegete a given verse of the Bible refers to applying the skills of careful study, observation and (if available) tools of the Biblical languages to “lead out” (i.e exegete) the meaning of the text. Such a discipline represents the floor-level step in beginning to prepare a sermon. The preacher’s task is to lead out the meaning of the text so that the listener can hear what God is saying to them through that text. Certainly considering the work of exegesis from the preacher’s side of the pulpit is a major focus of Paul’s instructions to his young protege Timothy. However, there is the equally important need to cultivate the skills needed in listening and applying an exegetically-based, Biblically-sound, theologically-rich and practically-relevant sermon. The reason I’m thinking on this subject is due to having heard a fine exegetical sermon in a church service my family and I attended while visiting family. In today’s post, I want to offer some suggestions for how one may learn how to listen to and apply an exegetical sermon.  

1. Have an open heart to the truth by preparing yourself to listen to the sermon

Whenever a church is committed to solid, exegetically based, verse-by-verse expositional preaching – such a commitment will come out in the musical portion of the service. The songs we sang prepared us for the exposition of the text. Anytime we sing praises to God, we are engaging the heart and the mind in contemplation and adoration of God. Setting our hearts and minds to be open to truth will clear away any distractions. Since exegetical sermons require careful listening and digestion of what is being preached, preparation of the listener in the song service and even in the practice of the Christian life throughout the week is just as important as the preparations made by the preacher. 

2. Listen carefully to the preacher’s announcement of his subject and outline of the passage.

Once the preacher has approached the pulpit, two important events occur in the first several minutes of his introduction. First, the preacher will announce what He is about to preach. The preacher we heard this morning was basing his sermon on Psalm 1. In announcing his topic, he noted how Psalm 1 is a Psalm about “first things”, which is apropos considering it was the first Sunday of the New Year. As the preacher commented further, he noted how Psalm 1 is about “two humanities, ways and destinies”.  In announcing his subject, the preacher demonstrated how he got his topic by noting the two-fold theme one finds in Psalm 1: the way of the wicked or warnings about going down the wrong path and the way of the righteous or the blessing associated with going down the path of righteousness. Below is a reconstruction of the pastor’s overall sermon with respect to its outline:

Topic of the sermon based on Psalm 1: “Which path are you following”

First main point: Warnings about the wrong path

Second main point: Blessings associated with following the path of righteousness

3. Listen for questions raised by the preacher throughout his exegetical sermon

Questions can function like plows for the soul, since a question is open-ended and demands a response from the listener. In the course of the sermon mentioned above, the following questions were sprinkled throughout the sermon: “Where is my (or your) hope?” ; “What occurs when we don’t delight in God and the path of righteousness?” ; “what does it mean to meditate on God’s word, and why does it matter?” Such questions drive anchoring nails into the boards of the listeners thoughts as they are beginning to string together the words and phrases they are hearing from the preacher and the text. The good thing about noting the questions raised in an exegetical sermon is that they can later on be searched out by the cross-references, textual observations and illustrations given in the course of the message so as to migrate the truth from the mind to the heart to the hands. 

4. Consider carefully the textual observations laid out by the preacher so as to connect to the meaning you need to apply

So far we have seen that in learning how to listen and apply an exegetical message, the listener needs to prepare themselves, take note of the preacher’s announced topic and sermon outline and questions raised in the course of the sermon. The fourth area deals with the particular textual details laid out by the preacher. This particular element of the listening process requires careful thought and active-engagement by the listener. In the sermon my family and I heard, the preacher brought out how Psalm 1 intentionally focuses upon great “beginnings” and “endings” by the way the author has the first word translated “blessed” starting with the first Hebrew letter, “aleph” (אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי) and the last word translated “perish” beginning with the final letter of the Hebrew alphabet, “tav” (תֹּאבֵֽד).

In drawing out this observation, the preacher reminded us that Psalm 1 is designed to help the reader and listener to think about the destiny and path they are beginning and where they are desiring to end. Such observations cause the listener to realize that even in the structure of the text, the intended meaning, once extracted, and lead to immediate and enriching life-practical application. 

5. Listen carefully and note cross references mentioned by the preacher

So what is necessary to cultivate one’s listening skills when hearing and applying an exegetical sermon? certainly mental and heart preparation, noting the preacher’s topic and outline, questions raised during the sermon and textual details that connect to application – such skills enhance the digestion of spiritual truth. When we consider a fifth element, we can note the cross references mentioned by the preacher in the course of the given exposition. There are over 31,000 verses in English translations of the Bible. As one either studies, preachers or hears God’s word, certain connections are made between words, phrases and ideas found throughout the Old and New Testament books. The time-honored principle of “comparing scripture with scripture” (i.e the analogy of faith) has been used to make clearer the truth we find in any given Biblical text. In the sermon mentioned above, the preacher demonstrated how the Apostle Paul uses the three-fold formula of “sitting”; “walking” and “standing” in the New Testament book of Ephesians as a reflection upon the thrust we find in Psalm 1:1-3. Such observations solidify in the listener’s ears the unity of the Testaments and the reinforcement of the need to “sit”; “stand” and “walk” in the path of righteousness.

6. Note the illustrations used by the preacher in bringing the truths of the text home to the listener

The advantage of preaching exegetical sermons is that the confidence of both the preacher and listener lies not in the preacher, but in the text and the Christ of the text. 

So what is necessary to cultivate one’s listening skills when hearing and applying an exegetical sermon? In addition to mental and heart preparation, noting the preacher’s topic and outline, questions raised during the sermon and textual details that connect to application and cross references, the listener needs to heed the illustrations given by the preacher. In exegetical preaching, the illustrations or word-pictures will serve to shed further light on the text. In the sermon referenced above, mention was made about how Martin Luther had written a friend pertaining to complain about how he (Martin Luther) was experiencing a season of spiritual laziness and coldness. A Luther went on in detail about his declining condition, he then suggests that maybe his friend was not praying enough for him.

The preacher’s point was that in walking in the path of righteousness, the child of God needs the congregation of the redeemed (i.e the local church) and the strengthening means of grace (the Bible, prayer, periodic participation in the Lord’s supper) to fight the war against the internal battles of unholy human desires (i.e the flesh). As I listened to this illustration and then saw where the preaching was going in his sermon, I said a short little prayer that I would not stray from the path. All good preaching will, in all of its points: explain the text’s meaning; illustrate and cross-reference to clarify the text’s meaning and exhort or reinforce the listener to apply the meaning of the text to their lives.

7. See where the preacher connects the text to Jesus Christ

In addition to all of the observations given above, as one hones the listening skills needed to hear and apply exegetical sermons, seeing how the text connects to Jesus is key. Unless the sermon has centered upon and ended somehow with Jesus Christ, neither the sermon will achieve its goal nor will the listener be benefited. As the preacher above was drawing his sermon to a close, he noted the connection between Psalm 1 and Psalm 2. Psalm 2 is a Psalm that points to Jesus Christ as the Messianic King. The life of faith exhorted in Psalm 1 will be incomplete unless it finds its refuge in the Christ of Psalm 2.  The preacher also reminded the congregation that as the Apostle Paul had written his letter to the church at Ephesus, he reminded them of having been “seated in Christ in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 2:6-7). Such connections made by the preacher and noted by the listener will rightly benefit the listener and validate the accomplishment of the sermon’s goal: to get us as fast to Christ as possible. 

8. Note the conclusion and final applications

In today’s post we have focused upon how to listen and apply an exegetical sermon. We’ve noted the following elements: preparation of the heart and mind; noting the preacher’s topic and outline; listen for questions; consider textual observations; note cross-references; see how the sermon illustrations connect to truths in the text and note how the sermon connects you to Jesus Christ. The final element to think about is of course the conclusion of the sermon. The preacher quoted both Martin Luther (mentioned already above) and a poem by the late atheistic poet Walt Whitman, wherein Whitman reflects on how he was a man who ended up feeling isolated and unacquainted with himself. The preacher’s point was that depending on whichever path one takes (the way of wickedness or the way of righteousness in Jesus Christ) will determine whether one can discern their place and destiny and how they ought to live for God’s glory. Such skills as the ones mentioned above may aid in becoming not only a better listener, but doer of God’s Word.  

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P3 – Arguing for the Historicity of the Virgin Birth

virgin-birth

Luke 1:30-35 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

Arguing for the virgin birth from the standpoint of historical investigation

Whenever we consider the birth narratives of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, what strikes the reader is the overt way they are passed off as genuine history. Skeptics will often attempt to pass-off the virgin-birth narratives of Matthew and Luke as legendary embellishments. Furthermore, critics will often claim that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke cannot be possibly reliable sources of information. Nearly all of these criticisms are based on a view of the world that excludes the possibility of the miraculous.

In the last two posts, we have considered how one may argue for the virgin birth. For the reader’s convenience, the links for the last two parts in this series are found in the following links:

1. https://biblicalexegete.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/p1-a-suggested-method-for-demonstrating-the-validity-of-the-virgin-birth/

2. https://biblicalexegete.wordpress.com/2016/12/14/p2-a-suggested-way-to-argue-for-the-virgin-birth-philosophically-demonstrating-why-the-virgin-birth-and-miracles-are-possible/

Since we have already addressed the biblical importance of the virgin birth and responded to the skeptical attacks on miracles, there only remains the final task of showing how this event is a historical one. By showing the virgin birth to be a historical event, the proponent of Jesus’ virgin birth only needs to show why a supernatural explanation of the events recorded in Matthew 1:1-2:23 and Luke 1:1-3:38 exceeds any rival naturalistic explanations of those events. Such an effort can be done through the standard methods used by historians investigating any event in history.

Philosopher Richard Swinburne has noted three factors necessary in assessing any historical explanation or hypothesis for a given event:

1. Testimony of eye-witnesses about the event and data left behind after the event’s occurrence.

2. General background information that is independent of the first factor (background information would include the behavior of the eyewitnesses, statements made by villains in the sequence of events)

3. The likelihood of the evidence (i.e statements about the virgin birth) being true under certain conditions (the historical setting of the Census of Caesar Augustus, Mary and Joseph’s betrothal, the songs of Elizabeth and Mary).

Whenever anyone investigates historical documents or events like what we find recorded in Matthew and Luke, a set of standard criteria or “tests for corroboration” are used by historians to determine the probability of the occurrence of a given event. New Testament scholar Darrell L. Bock in book: “Who is Jesus” lists the criteria used by historians.(1) A few will be listed below to give the reader a taste of how one would go about historically investigating the virgin birth:

1. Multiple sources or attestation: In standard New Testament studies, whether done by conservative or liberal scholarship, each of the documents of the New Testament are counted as one source. Hence, Matthew and Luke would each be counted as one source. The virgin birth would be considered multiply attested in the sources we have on the life of Jesus.

2. Criteria of embarrassment. In this second test, historians look for embarrassing details. If a given historical event is embellished or invented by the author, the events in question will contain no problems and the characters will possess no “embarrassing” details. One of the marks of true history is the so-called “warts and all”. Certainly Joseph’s contemplation of divorcing Mary (a taboo in 1st century Jewish culture); the inclusion of four women of questionable character in Jesus genealogy (Tamar, Rahab,Ruth, Bathsheba) and the appearance of Gentiles (i.e the Magi) in a positive light all point to the historicity of the events in question.

3.  Multiple attestation of forms. This rule has to do with the various ways and literary methods used by the author to conveying his account. In the birth narratives of Jesus we find Matthew and Luke using genealogies, eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ identity by people like Simeon and Anna; songs or poetry sung by Elizabeth and Mary and historical narratives concerning certain rulers, geographical locations and events. 

Tests like the ones above work together to determine or “corroborate” the event in question. Events like the virgin birth can be tested and shown to not only be proper articles of faith, but also proper subjects of history. 

It is one thing to establish the historicity of the event, but it is quite another to accept the explanation of the event. Throughout the last two centuries, skeptics have offered an array of naturalistic explanations of the birth narratives of Jesus. When weighing various historical explanations, we look for which ones consistently handle the evidence from the standpoint of such factors as: explanatory scope, power, coherence of details and least amount of unwarranted assumptions. Such examples of naturalistic explanations are:

1). Mary and Joseph naturally conceived Jesus out of wedlock

2). The virgin birth is a myth symbolizing certain moral lessons

3). The birth narratives are a mixture of myth and history

4). The birth narratives are based-off of pagan myths (such as the Egyptian myth of Osiris) can still be found among those who oppose the virgin birth.

In assessing all of these naturalistic theories and others like them, early twentieth century scholar J. Gresham Machen rightly notes:(2)

“How did this strange belief  (of the virgin birth) ever arise? This question is of course answered at once if the belief was founded upon fact; if Jesus was really born of a virgin, it is not difficult to understand how the Church came to believe that He was so born. But if this obvious answer be rejected, the question to which it is an attempted answer still remains.” 

Over the course of two-centuries, no naturalistic explanation of the birth narratives of Jesus has succeeded in offering an adequate explanation and handling of all the details recorded in Matthew and Luke. 

Conclusion:

Over the last couple of posts, we have attempted to offer a method for arguing for the virgin birth. We have considered a four-fold method of making the case for the virgin-birth conception of Jesus’ humanity: Biblical theology, Biblical languages, philosophical considerations and historical considerations. In these series of posts, we have worked through each area. It is suggested that if this four-fold method be used, such an approach can present a very powerful cumulative case for the Biblical truth of the virgin birth of Jesus. 

 

Endnotes:

1. Darrell L. Bock. Who is Jesus? Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith. Howard Books. 2012

2. J. Gresham Machen. The Virgin Birth of Christ. Page 269. 1930. Reprinted 1965 by Harper and Row Publishers.

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P2 – A Suggested Way To Argue For The Virgin Birth: Philosophically Demonstrating Why The Virgin Birth And Miracles Are Possible.

cross-light

Matthew 1:21-23 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”

Introduction:

In our last post we began considering how one may argue for the validity of the virgin birth from the standpoints of Biblical theology and the Biblical languages. Here is the link to the last post for those wanting to review: https://biblicalexegete.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/p1-a-suggested-method-for-demonstrating-the-validity-of-the-virgin-birth/. We concluded that within the Hebrew Old Testament there is a Biblical rationale and background for the virgin birth. Moreover, studies in the original languages confirm the appropriateness of understanding Mary as a virgin at the time of the conception of Jesus’ humanity. Today’s post is going to broaden the focus on this issue by considering standard philosophical objections to the virgin birth raised by skeptics. If miracles are even possible in our world, then miracles such as the virgin birth-conception can be included in what will be the final plank in our overall case for the virgin birth – namely its historicity. Today’s post will deal with the philosophical issues and arguments both against and for the virgin birth. The next post in this series will feature how we can know that the virgin birth is the best explanation of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

Arguing for the virgin birth from the standpoint of philosophical considerations

In this part of arguing for the virgin birth, we consider the issue of miracles and their place in the natural world. As noted already, if it can be shown that miracles are indeed possible in our world, then events like the virgin birth of Jesus of Nazareth are indeed possible and thus must be considered as real features of our world.  Philosophers such as 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza and 18th century skeptic David Hume are responsible for a majority of the arguments leveled against miracles in general. Both men asserted in their own way that a miracle is a violation of nature. Moreover, even if miracles did occur, normal human experience would never be able to identify the occurrence of a miracle. These two contentions, though having been addressed time and time again over the past two centuries, remain on the lips of those who doubt the validity of Christianity and the Biblical text.

When one realizes that the definition of a miracle offered by Hume and Spinoza is rooted in a view of the universe as composed of only physical matter (i.e naturalism), with no possibility of Divine intervention, the debate over miracles is immediately seen as a worldview issue. Dr. William Lane Craig has offered what is perhaps the simplest definition of a miracle that can anywhere be found: “a miracle is a naturally impossible event”. In other words, an event claimed to be a miracle is incapable of being brought about only by natural laws or processes. Other conditions can be added to this basic definition to address the skeptics’ attempts to show the inability to identify a miracle or validate a miracle claim:

a). significant religious, spiritual or historical contexts

b). infrequency of the event

c). the reactions or statements by eyewitnesses of the alleged miracle. 

Whenever we consider the virgin birth in light of the above definition, we find the following:

a). the virgin birth occurred in an era of Israel’s history where the people were spiritually, politically and religiously looking for Messiah

b). this is the only virgin birth recorded in the Biblical record and, despite claims to the contrary, no other pagan or Jewish source in antiquity has its founder experiencing a virgin birth

c). the quotation of Old Testament texts like Isaiah 7:14, the words of Mary and the Gospel records themselves fit the criteria of eyewitness material. Matthew was a direct disciple of Jesus and Luke would had consulted eyewitnesses of Jesus’ nativity.

By taking the simplified definition of a miracle as being “a naturally impossible event”, by definition, would be a miracle! How? No known physical laws (whether Einstein’s general relativity or quantum field theories, the current reigning scientific models for describing our universe) can explain the origin of the universe. The four fundamental forces identified by the physical sciences (strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, electromagnetic force and gravity) break down and are non-existent within the first few split seconds of the beginning of the universe. Various arguments for God’s existence (i.e theistic arguments), such as the argument from considerations of the cause of the universe, the fine-tuning argument and the best explanation for the universe’s beginning all show that there is a greater probability for there being a supernatural cause to the universe (i.e God) than a natural one. In short, we could offer the following argument for the miraculous in general, and the virgin birth in particular:

1. If God does not possibly exist, then the miraculous (i.e naturally impossible events) are not possible

2. By various theistic arguments, it can be shown that there is not only a possibility, but an overwhelming probability that God does exist

3. The origin of the universe is an example of a naturally impossible event

4. Therefore, miracles are possible in our world

5. Therefore, the virgin birth can be deemed an event that is possible in our world

Closing thoughts for today

Thus far we have shown how one could argue for the virgin birth from considerations in Biblical theology, Biblical languages and philosophical considerations. In the next post we will conclude our series by developing how one can know that the virgin birth occurred as a historical event, as well as final applications. 

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P1 – A Suggested Way To Argue For The Virgin Birth

cross-light

Luke 1:32-35 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. (NASB)

Why argue for Jesus’ virgin birth?

Today’s post will aim to begin offering a suggested method of arguing for the virgin birth/conception of Jesus. So why is it so important to argue for the virgin birth? The virgin birth stands as a central theological truth to rightly interpreting the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. The early 20th century theologian J. Gresham Machan argues forcefully for the virgin birth’s place with respect to the overall life and mission of Jesus (1): 

“But if the virgin birth represents the beginning of a new era in the course of the universe, a true entrance of the creative power of God, in sharp distinction from the order of nature, then, we think, when it is taken in connection with the entire phenomenon of Jesus’ life and particularly in the connection with the entire phenomenon of Jesus’ life and particularly in connection with the evidence of His resurrection, it is no longer a meaningless freak, but becomes an organic part of a mighty redeeming work of God, the reality of which is supported by a weight of evidence adequate even to overcome the initial presumption against it.”

Machen’s 1930 book is a landmark text that presents a proper defense and explanation of the virgin birth. His point is well taken in situating the priority the virgin birth plays in one’s overall understanding of all Jesus came to achieve in His first coming. With the significance of the virgin birth established, we will now briefly offer a four-fold strategy for arguing for it. Sketching out such an apologetic will intersect with four primary disciplines: biblical theology, Biblical languages, philosophy and history. Today’s post will feature the first two of these disciplines which will provide the first two planks in offering a way to argue for the virgin birth.

Arguing for the virgin birth from the standpoint of Biblical theology

This first plank in the overall strategy for arguing for the virgin birth attempts to communicate the meaning of it in light of major Biblical themes. Biblical theology is that particular area of theology that attempts to understand the overall major themes that unfold throughout the entirety of the Biblical text. So what key Biblical doctrines might be included to understand the significance of the virginal conception of Jesus in His humanity?

To begin, the doctrine of sin presented in the Old and New Testaments indicates that the moral and spiritual curse pronounced upon Adam and Eve is reckoned along the male side of the human bloodline (see Genesis 5 and 1 Peter 1:17-18 for example). As God’s plan of salvation unfolds throughout the Old Testament, the need of a Redeemer who would be both God and man becomes faintly outlined. In brief, the deity of this predicted redeemer would need to be fully Divine, since salvation is of the Lord (see Isaiah 43:10-11; Jonah 2:9).

Old Testament texts such as Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14 reveal a second important truth: that the humanity of the Redeemer would be a genuine humanity brought about by the “seed of a woman” and by way of “the virgin conceiving a son”. The humanity of the Redeemer needed to be truly human and yet without sin. Only a virgin-born human being could be guaranteed of not having their humanity tainted with sin derived from a paternal human bloodline. Other Old Testament texts such as Micah 5:1-3 dovetail both truths of the predicted Redeemer’s deity and humanity as fitting the profile of the Person needed to accomplish salvation.

Thoughts such as the ones above drive forward the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke. Luke’s genealogy of Jesus’ humanity (Luke 3:23-38) contains 77 names as reckoned per Mary’s side of His humanity. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus’ humanity (Matthew 1:1-17) portrays how Jesus is legally the son of David per Joseph lineage. Joseph plays no biological role in Jesus’ humanity, which is the point of Luke’s record. Both genealogies together operate along the major Biblical themes mentioned above. Keeping such truths in mind will enable one to keep focused as they argue for the virgin birth from the standpoint of Biblical theology.   

Arguing for the virgin birth from the standpoint of the Biblical languages

When we consider the two key verses that assert Jesus’ virgin-birth: Luke 1:34 and Matthew 1:23, part of making the case for Jesus’ virgin birth involves considering the Greek words behind the English translation “virgin”. Matthew 1:23 states in the NASB: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” The word translated “the virgin” is the Greek word ἡ παρθένος (par-then-os). Despite the protests of critics, this Greek word’s meaning of “virgin” is consistently defined as the proper translation of both Matthew 1:23 and its Old Testament quotation of the Greek version (i.e Septuagint) of Isaiah 7:14 in the major scholarly Greek dictionaries (lexicons).(2)

The second major verse that asserts the virgin birth is Mary’s statement in Luke 1:34. Mary’s statement asserts this doctrine by way of her describing what she is not, as rendered by the NKJV: “Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” The NASB renders this same verse by having the grammatically equivalent statement rendered positively as: “Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Mary’s assertion of “not knowing a man” bears out the lack of her experience of having physical intimacy with any man, which is a very specific way of making explicit her virginity. Both Matthew and Luke’s inclusion of the fact of the virgin birth is soundly supported by studies in the Biblical languages. 

So far we have observed how to argue for the virgin birth from the stand-point of Biblical theology and studies in the Biblical languages. We could say that these first two planks represent the Biblical data itself. The next two areas from whence one can argue for the virgin birth (philosophical considerations and history) deal more with the defensive side of the overall case. In the next post, we will begin considering how to argue for the virgin birth from the standpoint of philosophical considerations with respect to the possibility of miracles. 

More next time….

Endnotes:

1. J. Gresham Machen. The Virgin Birth of Christ. Page 217. 1930. Reprinted 1965 by Harper and Row Publishers)

2. Two Greek dictionaries or lexicons are worth noting in connection with the meaning of “par-then-os” in Matthew 1:23. The first is the lexicon edited by Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. p. 777. This particular lexicon (called by the abbreviated name “BDAG”) is considered the most up-to-date and reliable Greek lexicon covering the Greek and New Testament and other Greek literature. The portion of BDAG pertinent to this post notes:   παρθένος, ου, ἡ (s. prec. entry; Hom.+, gener. of a young woman of marriageable age, w. or without focus on virginity; s. esp. PKöln VI, 245, 12 and ASP 31, ’91 p. 39) and ὁ (s. reff. in b) in our lit. one who has never engaged in sexual intercourse, virgin, chaste person
ⓐ female of marriageable age w. focus on virginity ἡ παρθένος Mt 25:1, 7, 11; 1 Cor 7:25 (FStrobel, NovT 2, ’58, 199–227), 28, 34; Pol 5:3; Hv 4, 2, 1; Hs 9, 1, 2; 9, 2, 3; 5; 9, 3, 2; 4f; 9, 4, 3; 5f; 8 al.; AcPl Ox 6, 16 (cp. Aa I 241, 15); GJs 13:1. After Is 7:14 (הָעַלְמָה הָרָה; on this ASchulz, BZ 23, ’35, 229–41; WBrownlee, The Mng. of Qumran for the Bible, esp. Is, ’64, 274–81) Mt 1:23 (cp. Menand., Sicyonius 372f παρθένος γʼ ἔτι, ἄπειρος ἀνδρός). Of Mary also Lk 1:27ab; GJs 9:1; 10:1; 15:2; 16:1; 19:3; ISm 1:1 and prob. 

A second Greek dictionary of near-equal prominence is the Intermediate Dictionary Greek-English Dictionary by George Liddell. In his entry for par-then-os we read for the primary entry: παρθένιος, α, ον, and ος, ον, (παρθένος) like παρθένειος, of a maiden or virgin, maiden, maidenly, Od., Hes., Aesch., etc.  Whenever we look at any Greek dictionary, we must consider all the entries and then determine which meaning fits the context of the passage. the remaining entries in Liddell’s lexicon reads: 2. παρθένιος, ὁ, the son of an unmarried girl, Il.:—but, π. ἀνήρ the husband of maidenhood, first husband, Plut.
II. metaph. pure, undefiled, h. Hom.; π. μύρτα, of white myrtle-berries, Ar. As we have already explored the Biblical theology of this word, as well as considered what was read in the other Greek Lexicon “BDAG”, the primary entry in Liddell would be the most appropriate rendering for the word we find in Matthew 1:23. 

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