Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Urban Legends Post on B&H Academic

It's been several months since my last post. I have been working hard on my next book: Urban Legends of the New Testament (to be published with Broadman & Holman). The manuscript is due in July, so my deadline is fast approaching.

The B&H Academic Blog began posting regularly a few months back and I was asked to write about something ... so I chose my Urban Legends project. You can access the post here. Check it out and let me know what you think!

I do have some major plans for blogging in the future, but right now I'm trying to stay totally focused on the book. Your prayers are appreciated!


Friday, February 28, 2014

Ortlund and Tithing: UPDATE

Dr. Ortlund responded to some of the comments on the thread. In the end, about 39 comments were made and then the comments section was CLOSED.

Ortlund wisely decided not to debate the issue of tithing in a comment thread. But he did make a few points that were helpful:
1. He wasn't saying anything about "storehouse" tithing.
2. He wasn't doing a biblical theology of giving.
3. He wasn't discussing the motivation for giving.
4. He WAS meditating on one verse.
5. "When Jesus says something, I take it that it applies to me - directly or indirectly, but it certainly applies to me somehow. The one thing the words of Jesus cannot be is inapplicable to me. But that's just how I read the Bible. If you read it differently, that's between you and him."

I agree with all five of those points. Now, the way #5 is carried out is a big part of the question. Here's the tension. 1) Every word Jesus said that is recorded in the Gospels was stated while under the Old Covenant. 2) Every word Jesus said that is recorded in the Gospels was penned by the author of the Gospel decades after the inaugurating of the New Covenant and was written to Christians.

So, yes, everything Jesus said applies ... but it's the "directly or indirectly" (as he put it) that's the rub. The story in Matthew 8:1-4 is an example of a passage that would apply more "indirectly." I prefer to communicate this through the concept that the underlying principles apply. So while I agree that "tithing applies," I would say that the underlying principles to each Old Testament law applies to Christians, but that is FAR different from saying that Christians should "tithe" or give 10%. So while I agree with his five points, I'm guessing we would apply them differently.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Jesus and Tithing-A reply to Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund has written a blog post on the Gospel Coalition website defending the practice of tithing from Jesus' teaching in Matthew 23:23. It's a very short post, but I think his presentation is pretty much what I've seen in using that passage to advocate tithing. The verse seems straight forward enough: Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for their lack of justice, mercy, and faithfulness, but never abrogated the tithe. Instead, Jesus appears to commend the tithe. So how could it be possible that Jesus commended tithing yet Christians wouldn't be required to tithe?

First, those who come from the perspective that the shift from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant contains much continuity (much similarity) might read Matthew 23:23 and conclude that tithing continues. That makes a lot of sense from that perspective. Someone coming from the view of discontinuity (little similarity assumed) might point out that Jesus made this comment to those under the Old Covenant and therefore assuming it applies to Christians is naive. In my chapter in Perspectives on Tithing, I said: "This verse should not be used to argue for the continuation of tithing based on the clear fact that Jesus' statement about tithing was for the scribes and Pharisees who were still under the olod covenant" (page 74). Reggie Kidd responded to this thought when he said: "It is inadequate to observe that Jesus was addressing scribes and Pharisees rather than post-Easter Christians" (Perspectives on Tithing, page 110). I will take up Kidd's challenge below.

Second, most discussion on the text does not contain much careful, in-depth analysis. It seems clear on the surface so digging deeper doesn't seem necessary.

Third, I was challenged by Kidd (above) to dig a little deeper and I published these thoughts on Tithing After the Cross (chapter 3). Basically it seems that Jesus might be commenting on a hotly debated rabbinic question: is it necessary to tithe dill? The Mosaic Law never says you need to, so Matthew 23:23 doesn't fit well into the Mosaic Law's teaching on tithing. But it is very comfortable in the 1st century rabbinic debate. So it appears that Jesus is in agreement with Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (who post-dated Jesus). Since the parallel in Luke 11:42 says that "every kind of garden herb" was being referenced, and it is clear that the Old Testament does NOT command nor commend that, Jesus seems to be commending Jewish oral traditions, not Old Testament law.

Finally, a detailed study of the tithing laws in the Old Testament reveal that the Jews actually gave closer to 23%, not 10%, in tithes. So if Jesus was commending the Old Testament practice of tithing (and I just argued that he was not), then he was commending about 23%, not 10%. This is a serious issue that needs to be discussed when trying to apply Matthew 23:23 today.

I was very surprised by the comments below Ortlund's post. Of the 16 comments made, 13 were clearly in disagreement. The only "extended" defense said this: "Every single objection I have ever heard or seen to the practice of tithing has been an excuse to try and give less. You’re right, it isn’t matter of the law, it’s a matter of the heart." Attacking the person rather than dealing with arguments is easy to do. This is an unfair statement. While I have encountered this same thought among those who do not advocate tithing, I have also encountered very generous believer's who desire to see God glorified in their finances.

For two free online resources, see the following links to articles published by Dr. Andreas Kostenberger and I on tithing several years ago:
1-"Will a Man Rob God?" (Malachi 3:8): A Study of Tithing in the Old and New Testaments
2-Reconstructing a Biblical Model for Giving: A Discussion of Relevant Systematic Issues and New Testament Principles

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Word about "A word on translation theory": A response to Denny Burk

Bible translation debates can get very heated very quickly. Christians have their favorite version that they like to read. Having a conversation with someone who is informed about Bible translation philosophy is extremely rare. Enter Dave Brunn's book One Bible, Many Versions. Recently DennyBurk posted some thoughts about Brunn's book. I'm not confident that all of Burk's criticisms are fair.
Burk claims that Brunn at times is nuanced in his discussion of Formal Equivalence translation theory (or what some prefer: Essentially Literal) and at other times he is not. He does provide some examples, like Brunn saying that these translators believe that “increased literalness” always leads to “increased faithfulness and accuracy” (on pages 49 and 50). So I looked up pages 49 and 50.

On these pages, Brunn never says that Formal Equivalence translators are claiming that increased literalness leads to increased accuracy. It seems obvious to me that he is trying to correct the common misconception amongst Christians that the more literal a translation, the more accurate. I hear that very consistently in conversations with pastors, seminary students, Bible college students, and members of churches. This is an urban legend of Christianity. Brunn addresses it and doesn't say that the translators advocate it. His audience is not Bible translators of Formal Equivalent translations, but people in the pews. Burk might be “mirror reading” the wrong people into this dialogue.

Burk says, “Readers might be tempted to think that Brunn has uncovered a discrediting inconsistency with Formal Equivalence translation—that Formal Equivalence translations claim to be 'word for word' but that they don’t really carry it out consistently in practice (191).” My fear is that readers of this post might think that Brunn has naively characterized Formal Equivalent translations and then won't take the time to read his book and have informed thoughts on the issue. Not only does Brunn NOT appear to “tempt” readers in to thinking he has uncovered a “smoking gun,” he goes OUT OF HIS WAY to show this. Note this quote from page 68:

The translators of literal versions such as the ESV and NASB are aware of the tension that exists between ideal and real translation, and they acknowledge that tension in their Bible introductions. For example, the introduction to the ESV includes the following statement: 'Every translation is at many points a trade-off between literal precision and readability, between 'formal equivalence' in expression and 'functional equivalence' in communication.” Brunn cites the introduction to the ESV so that what the Formal Equivalence translators are claiming is put right in front of the eyes of his readers. No smoking gun, nothing uncovered, no secrets revealed. Ironically, Burk thought that quoting from the ESV introduction would be the way to resolve any question about what the translators think so he quotes some of the exact same words that Brunn quoted. Seems like Brunn did a great job covering his bases.

Burk does provide an interesting response to some of Brunn's comments on page 191. I find myself kind of stuck between them on this issue. I've heard some “essentially literal” translation advocates say, with my own ears, that when a translation doesn't have an English word where a Greek word was, then the translators must not have a high view of the authority of Scripture.

For example, the Greek text of Matthew 28:18a says:
And Jesus came up and said to them saying ...”
ESV: And Jesus came and said to them ...
HCSB: Then Jesus came near and said to them ...
NIV: Then Jesus came to them and said ...


All of these translations “drop” the (redundant) word “saying.” Does that mean that the translators have a low view of Scripture? No, of course not. I think Brunn may be responding to some of these extreme comments, comments that I have heard translators and lay people make. But Burk asks a good question: how much of that is acceptable in a reliable translation? That truly is where the crux of the debate is at, and I'm confident Brunn would agree with Burk that this is where a valuable discussion can take place.

Overall, I think the confusion here is that Brunn is writing to lay people who have a lot of confusion regarding Bible translations. I can't count how many times I've heard the concept that "literal is more accurate" in small groups. While scholars and translators may not be promoting this idea, lay people do believe this. That is who Dave Brunn is writing to ... not scholars and translators.

Who Can Baptize? Part 3

Kevin DeYoung's post on who is authorized to baptize had four arguments. I've discussed the first two already, the biblical and theological arguments.
The third argument is "exegetical": "an appeal to the priesthood of all believers does not support the administration of baptism by every church member. ... It does not suggest that now in the New Testament there are no rites which may be performed only by ordained officers."
My response is that he makes a great point that the argument from the priesthood of all believers, by itself, is not convincing. If that was the only argument for allowing non-pastor's to baptize, then it would be a fairly weak biblical case to make.
The fourth argument is pragmatic: "for baptism to be responsible there must be some church oversight. ... There must be a process of accountability and evaluation. Invariably, as Grudem points out, the pastor(s) of the church are likely involved in determining who can be baptized and who can baptize. If church officers superintend the process ... it stands to reason that they exercise their Christ-given authority in performed (sic) the baptism itself."
This argument, which, to be fair, he himself considers his weakest, is puzzling. Why can't "church officers" superintend the process and delegate the actual baptizing to a member in the church? Why can't "church officers" evaluate the candidates, but leave it up to other to perform the actual baptism? He starts by saying "there must be some church oversight," but concludes by implying that the church leadership must perform all of it. We can have church oversight while a lay person does the actual baptizing.
Granted, I do appreciate the concept of church oversight regarding baptism. I think it is very wise. I'm not sure it's required, but it's wise.
These are my thoughts on non-church leaders performing baptisms. I have no problem with it. I think Scripture never intentionally addresses the issue, with the closest being Acts 9:18 where Ananias baptizes Saul/Paul.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Who Can Baptize? Part 2

Kevin DeYoung's post on who is authorized to baptized was interesting enough that I wanted to respond to his main points. I've responded to his "Biblical" argument already. Now to his "Theological" argument, the one he finds most compelling.
Here he says that "we must take into account how Christ rules his church. ... As his under-shepherds, our Chief Shepherd rules in the church through the elders of the church. ... The sacraments (or ordinances) involve the administration of grace and exercise of church power which belong to the office bearers of the church."
First, I appreciate how DeYoung tried to stay away from the infant vs. believer's baptism issue throughout. That's not his purpose for this post and it could've muddled the discussion.
Second, I'm curious as to the picture he has in his mind about a non-elder baptism. Is he thinking about a father deciding to baptize his son at home in his bathtub? Or, is he thinking about a church baptism service that an elder is overseeing but the father is the one doing the baptism? Maybe both? I think these could/should be viewed very differently. Why? Because in the latter, the father would be functioning under the authority of the elder. This is basically "delegated authority". I wonder if that subverts his theological argument somewhat.
Third, the idea that baptism involves the administration of grace is part of a theological system that, as a baptist, is not part of my paradigm. It seems that in his last sentence, his ecclesiological system causes him to view the church's authority and baptism itself in such a way that aids his argument. But since I don't hold to his ecclesiological views, I find this argument not convincing in the least.
I'll pick up with arguments 3 and 4 soon.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Who Can Baptize?

Last Sunday the church I'm attending had a baptism service. In one of the baptisms, a father baptized his son. That got me thinking:
- is it biblically allowable for a non-church leader (e.g. pastor) to perform a baptism?
- should baptisms be connected to a local church?
- should baptism be preceded by a period of discipleship/testing/training or immediately after salvation?

Then I read Kevin DeYoung's post on the first question above. I greatly appreciate DeYoung's blog and the courage and insight he portrays on it. This is not a "gospel" issue, but a fun one to think about and discuss. So I thought I'd weigh in on his four arguments:

1) He says: "Biblically, we see that those who perform Christian baptism in the New Testament have been set apart by Christ for an office in the church (e.g., Peter, Paul, Phillip). Strictly speaking, the Great Commission, with its command to baptize, was given to the apostles, not to every believer indiscriminately. There is no evidence to show that private members baptized."

First, the most natural reading of Acts 9:18 is that Ananias baptized Paul. We have zero evidence that Ananias was an elder.
Second, Phillip was not an elder. Some may consider him a deacon, though that specific title is not used in Acts 6. In fact, the only two men from Acts 6 that are described after that passage are described as preaching the gospel: Stephen and Phillip. Philip seems to be more of an evangelist. He may have been a proto-deacon, but that is different from being an elder.
Third, the logic seems to be that every one explicitly described as baptizing in Scripture is a church leader, so only church leaders should baptize. If that's the case, would DeYoung use the same logic to say "since only adult believers are explicitly described in Scripture as being baptized, only adult believers should be baptized"? I'm doubting that ...
Fourth, while DeYoung has clarified his comments about the Great Commission being given "to the apostles," I still find his thoughts on this wanting. If we are following "good instincts" by "obeying" the Great Commission by sending missionaries throughout the world, then couldn't we also be involved in baptism more directly? Regardless, I do believe the Great Commission was initially intended for more than just the apostles. I believe every believer should be involved in going, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching. That doesn't mean that every believer will go into the jungle and start a church, but on some level they are to be involved in this process. Nothing in the Great Commission seems to limit the teaching or baptizing to only the apostles or the "church leadership".
Finally, D. A. Carson says the following regarding the Great Commission in his Matthew commentary (page 666): “The injunction is given at least to the Eleven, but to the Eleven in their own role as disciples (28:16). Therefore, they are paradigms for all disciples. Plausibly, the command is given to a larger gathering of disciples. … Either way, it is binding on all Jesus' disciples to make others what they themselves are—disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Work of Ministry-2/18/2014

I was given the opportunity to speak in chapel at Columbia International University on Tuesday, February 18, 2014. Here is a link to the audio of my sermon.