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

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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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No excuses for not following Jesus: A study of Luke 9:59-62 in Greek and English

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Luke 9:59-62 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:59-62 ειπεν δε προς ετερον ακολουθει μοι ο δε ειπεν κυριε επιτρεψον μοι απελθοντι πρωτον θαψαι τον πατερα μου 60 ειπεν δε αυτω ο ιησους αφες τους νεκρους θαψαι τους εαυτων νεκρους συ δε απελθων διαγγελλε την βασιλειαν του θεου 61 ειπεν δε και ετερος ακολουθησω σοι κυριε πρωτον δε επιτρεψον μοι αποταξασθαι τοις εις τον οικον μου 62 ειπεν δε προς αυτον ο ιησους ουδεις επιβαλων την χειρα αυτου επ αροτρον και βλεπων εις τα οπισω ευθετος εστιν εις την βασιλειαν του θεου

Introduction:

Today’s post features a section from Luke’s Gospel that emphasizes the theme of discipleship or following Jesus. Robert L. Thomas on page 56 of his reference work: “Charts of the Gospels and the Life of Christ”, mentions passages that are unique to Luke. Luke 9:59-60 gives us the context for what follows concerning Jesus’ response to excuses given for not following Him. Although there are several sections in Luke’s Gospel that are unique to him, Luke 9:61-19:28 exhibits the largest of these sections, representing an almost unbroken section of Jesus’ teachings and miracles that are not recorded by Matthew, Mark nor John. Whenever one reads Luke’s version of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension; one of the major themes is that of discipleship. Thus, it makes a worthwhile study of this unique section of material in Luke’s Gospel.

How Luke uses the imperative mood to heighten our awareness of what is going on in the text  

The reader probably noted that I highlighted three words in Luke 9:58-62: επιτρεψον (found twice in verses 59 and 61, rendered by the NASB as “permit”); απελθων (found in verse 60 and rendered by the NASB as “go”)  and διαγγελλε (found in verse 60 and rendered in the NASB as “go”). When we refer to the term “mood” in Greek grammar, we are referring to the relationship the verb has to the reality of the situation in the mind of the author. In the Greek verbal system, the various moods express increasing or decreasing levels of direct connection to the reality or involvement of the situation.

The two verbs επιτρεψον = permit me and διαγγελλε = proclaim are what we call “imperative” verbs or “imperative mood” verbs. To speak of an “imperative” verb is described by the reference work: “A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature”, page 195, as: “by no means confined to commands, but also expresses a wish or concession.”

The imperative verb’s mood portrays the user of the verb as expressing a wish to be connected to the object of their request – namely in following Jesus. Therefore, in Luke’s report about Jesus’ teaching on the excuses given by people for not following in discipleship, the persons in question use the imperative επιτρεψον = “permit” to express their wishes to “take care of their business” before following the Lord. The particular parsing or grammatical breaking down of επιτρεψον = “permit” is that of being an aorist active imperative 2nd person singular, meaning that the request is for an immediate, one time allowance or exception. According to Greek professor and New Testament scholar Robert Plummer, the “aorist” in Greek communicates an event. Thus, in using the aorist, the person in Jesus’ teaching is not saying how long they will need to go settle the affairs of their relatives.  

There are no excuses for not following Jesus

In other words, the person is asking Jesus to relax the demand of discipleship this one time. The problem with this request is that it is made prior to the potential disciple making the first step. Jesus’ issue here of course is with how this person is viewing the foundation of their commitment to Him. In case people may think Jesus to be insensitive to this person’s request, certain reputable commentators over the years have suggested that this person was looking to get his cut from the estate of his father prior to his death (much like the prodigal son in Luke 15, for example). In any case, Jesus suspects that the person in question has ulterior motives, motives which have, in-effect, pushed Jesus to the back seat.

If Jesus is already viewed as second or third or whatever in a long list of priorities, then how can the person claim to be a disciple that is putting Jesus as the umbrella priority over everything? The Geneva Study Bible has the following note: “The calling of God ought to be preferred without any question, before all duties that we owe to men.” 

With regards to the second man in Jesus’ teaching, his response to him is for the man to διαγγελλε = “proclaim”. The verb here is a present active imperative 2nd person singular, conveying the idea of “communicating the message abroad.”

Whenever we consider the other verbal before this verb, namely απελθων = go, this verb is a participle in the Greek. Participles in regards to their moods refer to the status of the subject performing the action. As verbal adjectives, participles function to describe what is happening relative to the main verb or event in the sentence.

In Greek, it is common to have a participle following an imperative verb, forming a string of commands or one command made of two elements. In this instance, Jesus is using the aorist active participle singular nominative masculine form in απελθων = go to get this fellow to get up, get started and get going. Combined with the imperative verb already discussed (namely διαγγελλε = “proclaim”), the total idea is this: “get going and keep on proclaiming the kingdom of God.” This is Jesus’ way of urging his listeners to stop making excuses. Discipleship ever involves placing Jesus as the umbrella priority over everything. As the Bible Knowledge Commentary notes on these verses:

“Jesus’ words underscore the fact that His message of the kingdom of God was more important than anything else—even family members. The message and the Messiah cannot wait. Jesus’ message was more important than Elijah’s message and demanded total allegiance. Jesus’ servants should not have divided interests, like a farmer who begins plowing and looks back. Since Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, the man had to make up his mind right then as to what he was going to do. Interestingly Luke did not record the outcome of any of Jesus’ conversations with the three men.”

Closing thoughts:

So what excuses do you and I give when it comes to following Jesus? Certainly attending to life’s responsibilities must be done. However, for those who claim Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, the call is to place all priorities under The Priority: Jesus Christ. Whenever we have a proper reference point for our actions, thoughts and words, we will be able to do them with intention and effectiveness. Timing is everything. Following Jesus is a constant, demanding but precious calling for the child of God. 

 

 

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An important resource for sharpening one’s skills in the study of God’s Word: the theological journal

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Introduction:

Studying God’s Word is aided in increasing measure as one considers important points as: 

1. Understanding the context

2. Theology of the passage

3. Pertinent questions raised by past interpreters

4. Bridging of any cultural practices or figures of speech

5. Proper ways of applying the text to one’s life.

Bible students have consulted various resources over the years in achieving greater competency in their use and application of the scriptures. Today’s post will briefly consider the main tools used in developing proficiency in one’s interpretation of the Biblical text, with the ultimate goal of encouraging readers to consider adding theological journals to their Bible-study repertoire. 

Drilling deeper into the Biblical text

When it comes to drilling deeper into extracting the meaning of the Biblical text, the Bible student has several options. No matter what level of study one pursues, prayer is the very first practice one ought to undertake. We can think of prayer as “sticking the bit of the drill” into the soil of our hearts as we prepare to explore the scripture.

Following prayer, we are ready to begin journeying into the text of God’s Word. Certainly there are Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias that give the back grounds and summaries of any questions one may have about cultural practices or meanings of terms in the Biblical text.

A second-level (if we may call it that) of study involves consultation of commentaries or what other reputable interpreters of scripture have had to say in recent times or in centuries past.

The bed-rock or deepest level of study into the Biblical text entails exploration of the underlying Hebrew and Greek words, grammar and expressions of the given English translation. Most Christians may not have had the opportunity to learn the original languages of the Old and New Testaments. Thankfully, the next best tools for accessing the mines of the original language texts behind our English translations comes in the form of concordances (like Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance or  The NIV Exhaustive Concordance) and word-study materials (older reference works such as “Vine’s word-studies” or newer works produced  by AMG Publishers). For those who have had opportunity to study the original languages, humility and dependence upon the Spirit of God is especially needed. No matter what level one may be at in their exploration of the scripture, prayer before, during and following one’s study bridges the interpretive process to life-application. 

It’s is after drilling down through these “three-levels” that the Bible student needs to come back up to the surface and to consider all that they have observed. 

The importance of theological journals in sharpening one’s study of the scriptures

In so far as all of the above tools are important to one’s growing competency in the study of the Bible, one set of tools needs to be included: theological journals. A theological journal is like a monthly or quarterly magazine that is pumped-up on steroids. Theological journals give the reader the latest and most-cutting edge discussions on any theological or exegetical subject being considered by scholars and researchers in a given field. Such theological journals as “The Journal of the Evangelical Society” (nicknamed “JETS” and produced by the Evangelical Theological Society) and “Biblica Theca Sacra” (the journal publication of Dallas Theological Seminary) can be subscribed to through the academic groups producing them.

Thankfully, there is another option that enables readers to access past issues of journals like these for as little as $5 / month. If one clicks on the website: http://www.galaxie.com and follows the instructions for subscription, instant access is granted to explore their incredible archives (with the most recent issues being up to November of 2016). For anyone desiring to expand their understanding of God’s Word, getting the opportunity to stretch oneself in reading an article in a reputable theological journal will prove beneficial.  

 

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