Friday, December 31, 2010

Five Minutes Daily with Luther - December 31

(Reprinted with permission from Five Minutes Daily with Luther: Daily Lessons from the Writings of Martin Luther, by John Theodore Mueller.)

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might” Ephesians 6:10.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The life of a human creature is an on-going war on earth. A Christian must be a soldier, always striving and fighting with the enemy. St. Paul describes the weapons of a Christian (Ephesians 6). Firstly, the girdle of truth: that is, the confession of the pure doctrine of the Gospel, which is sincere, not a hypocritical or a feigned faith. Secondly, the breastplate of righteousness: the righteousness of faith, and of the remission of sins, the faith of which Moses speaks (Genesis 15): “And he (Abraham) believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Thirdly, the shoes with which the feet are shod: the works of our calling; namely, the fruits of faith. Fourthly, the shield of faith: Christ Himself and His atoning blood, whom we must hold before the fiery arrows of the enemy. Fifthly, the helmet of salvation: that is, the hope of everlasting life. Sixthly, the sword of the Spirit: that is, the Word of God and prayer, for just as the lion is frightened by nothing more than the crowing of a rooster, so the devil can be overcome and vanquished with nothing other than with the Word of God and prayer, and of this Christ Himself has given us an example.
From strength to strength go on,
Wrestle, and fight, and pray;
Tread all the powers of darkness down,
And win the well-fought day.

Still let the Spirit cry
In all His soldiers, “Come,”
Till Christ the Lord descends from high,
And takes the conquerors home.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Five Minutes Daily with Luther - December 24

(Reprinted with permission from Five Minutes Daily with Luther: Daily Lessons from the Writings of Martin Luther, by John Theodore Mueller.)

“And is this the custom of man, O Lord God?” 2 Samuel 7:19.

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The truth that Christ is God and man is above human reason and understanding. For when we try to bring the two natures in Christ (the divine and human) into one person, then human wisdom, reason, and understanding are startled, and say: How can this be? We do not understand it. But it is not written that you should understand and comprehend it with your natural sense and wisdom, but you must yield yourself captive and believe the Word of the Gospel through the operation of the Holy Ghost, and give God the honor that is due Him, that He is true and cannot lie. St. Paul says: “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him . . . . For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:14, 16). And Christ says: “if you shall ask the Father for anything, He will give it to you in My name” (John 16:23). “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.” (Matt 21:22). “all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you” (Mark 6:24). Here Christ speaks as one who has all in His power, who can give everything which a man prays for in faith.
The everlasting Son
Incarnate deigns to be;
Himself a servant’s form puts on,
To set His people free.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Bridegroom's Gift to His Bride at Christmas(s)

Like it or not, Christmas is one of those holidays that the Church shares with the world. Many festive traditions have grown up around it, like trees and lights and music and presents. The Church uses these to celebrate the birth of Christ. The world uses them simply to celebrate. We may bemoan the secularization of the Christmas season and we may complain that the world has stolen from the Church more than she has willingly shared.

And yet, how can we complain? Even though the world abuses it and often refuses it, Christmas is God’s gift to all men. The whole world is invited to the celebration. Shout it from the mountaintops! Proclaim it from the pulpit! If you belong to the human race, then “a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.” Hear the good news and believe!

But there remains one Christmas tradition that is reserved for the Bride of Christ, his Church – a gift meant only for her. This gift is unpretentious. It doesn’t sparkle; it doesn’t shine. In ancient times, the entire Christmas season grew out of this gift that now lingers modestly in the background, no longer the focus of Christmas, and yet not quite forgotten. It is a Christmas gift given for the Church alone to receive, wrapped up and waiting for her on Christmas morning.

You won’t find this gift under the Christmas tree or at the dinner table, but you will find it on many a Table in many a church on Christmas morning: a body that was given in and from the womb of a virgin; given under law to redeem those who were under the law; given over to death for the sins of all; a body born in time but prepared in eternity so that God could die and man could live, the Word Made Flesh who once made his dwelling among us.

See! He makes his dwelling among us still – the same body, the same blood, no longer wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger, but wrapped in bread and wine, cradled in a pastor’s hand and given to you...and to you...and to you.

You didn’t get to hear the angelic host singing in the night skies of Bethlehem, but you do get to join the saints on earth and the hosts of heaven in glorious song, “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” You didn’t get to be there for the miracle of the virgin birth, but you do get to be there for this miracle when God comes to earth and gives himself to his people to touch and to taste, to eat and to drink in Christmas communion. You get to celebrate the birth of Christ in the sacramental presence of Christ. Who would have thought?

What a miracle! What a gift – better than any present waiting under the Christmas tree! The gift of real peace. The gift of eternal life. The gift of divine forgiveness. The God-given medicine against guilt and condemnation. At the heart of Christmas is the Word Made Flesh – in the Gospel that tells of his incarnation, and in the Sacrament that brings the Incarnate Word to earth again.

Of all the Christmas traditions that the world has borrowed and emptied, this tradition belongs to the Church and to her alone: to meet together on December 25th in the Real Presence of her Savior, born in Bethlehem, to receive him with all his benefits and to offer him the worship of faith. And in this Christmas communion, her song speaks of the past as well as the present, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King!”

Monday, December 20, 2010

Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 2, The Teaching of the Law

In a previous post back in October of this year, Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 1, we covered the reason why Law and Gospel must both be preached and yet kept sharply distinguished. We did so, however, without actually articulating either the Law or the Gospel, but promised to adduce these teachings from Scripture in a future post. We begin to do so with today’s post, covering the Scripture’s teaching of the Law. Later this week, we will adduce Scripture’s teaching of the Gospel.

General Revelation reveals God’s Law
    Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory (Is. 6:3b).

    O LORD, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches (Ps. 104:24).

    For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead (Ro. 1:20).

    The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork (Ps. 19:1).

    The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God (Ps. 14:1a; 53:1a).

    For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves, which show the work of the law written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness... (Ro. 2:14-15).

    Of these two parts the adversaries select the Law, because human reason naturally understands, in some way, the Law (for it has the same judgment divinely written in the mind); [the natural law agrees with the law of Moses, or the Ten Commandments] and by the Law they seek the remission of sins and justification (AP:IV:7).

    For even our first parents before the Fall [before the Law was given] did not live without the Law, who had the Law of God written on their hearts, because they were created in the image of God (Ge. 1:26; 2:16-17; 3:3) (FC:EP:VI:2)
The Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions are clear: God’s Creation gives undeniable evidence of His existence, His glory, His power, and His moral law, and God has written His law on the hearts of all mankind. Observation bears this out, as well. Over the course of history, pagan societies which operate according to the cycles of nature have drawn these very conclusions: deity exists, it is powerful, it has issued laws which must be followed. They have also noticed the effects of sin: disease, death, decay, enmity, strife, calamity. In fear of such consequences, pagan societies have nearly all concluded that the deity must be appeased, through pious exercises and sacrifices of various kinds, as a way of avoiding temporal hardship.

But recognizing God in His created order, and deriving moral and civil law from that order which appeals to His authority as the one establishing it, has not been limited to primitive agrarian or hunter-gatherer societies, or societies otherwise without the benefit of Special Revelation. The Church had long recognized various categories and sources of God’s Law, Aquinas finally articulating four such categories: eternal law, natural law, human law, and divine law. Dr. Thomas Johnson1 (Professor of Apologetics, Martin Bucer Seminary, Bonn, DE) summarizes these categories from Aquinas’ Treatise on Law:
    Aquinas’ scheme of four types of law systematized ideas developed over the preceding centuries of discussion in Christian ethics. ...[T]he eternal law is that law which exists eternally in God’s reason. “Since the Divine Reason’s conception of things is not subject to time but is eternal according to Pr. 8:23, therefore it is this kind of law which must be called eternal.”

    ...The natural law, according to Aquinas, is the “participation of the eternal law in the rational creature.” The natural law is how God reveals His will in creation. ...The precepts of the natural law in the human mind are the self-evident, indemonstrable first principles of practical reason that instruct us to seek the good and avoid evil. While some propositions about the natural law may only be self-evident to the wise, all people use the natural law when, by practical reason, they identify goods to pursue and evils to avoid. And while sin can blot out the natural law in particular cases, yet the knowledge of the general principles of the natural law cannot be totally blotted out by sin; all people know the difference between good and evil and know that they should pursue the good and avoid evil.

    The human law is framed by human lawgivers and given to the community for the common good of the state. [It] is intended to promote peace and virtue, while protecting the innocent from the wicked.

    ...The divine law is the special revelation of God in the Old and New Testaments. Aquinas found four major reasons why it is necessary to have a divine law in addition to the natural law and the human law. First, the divine law is oriented to man’s eternal happiness in a way that the natural and human laws are not. Second, because the human and natural laws use fallible human judgments, God also gave a law that allows us to know some things without doubt. Third, the divine law judges hidden, interior motivation in a way that human law cannot. Fourth, human law cannot forbid all evil without also hurting the common good; it is left to the divine law to forbid all evil.

    A crucial element in Aquinas’ theory of law is that the human law is to be derived from and evaluated primarily by the natural law, not primarily by the divine law. This means that matters in the legal-political sphere of life are to be evaluated primarily by those principles of justice which God built into human reason, not by revelation in Scripture or in Christ.
This is this view of God’s law – especially the recognition of natural law and its relationship to God’s eternal law and to temporal human, or civil, law – which was understood and accepted by the Reformers (both Lutheran and Reformed), and which was carried forward by them as the West transformed under Protestant influence. It was relatively short-lived, however. Beginning early in the 17th Century, perhaps in response to the bloody and extended political conflicts in Europe which emerged from religious differences within Christianity, a dualism seemed to develop within various legal and political circles, and among some Protestants, which separated the Law of Nature from the Law of God (Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf), the former constituting a “universal” law and religion to which all could ascribe in the civil realm (Lord Herbert of Cherbury)2. This, no doubt, influenced dramatic changes in the idea of natural law occurring a century later.

General Revelation, Natural Law, and Deity – without Specific Religion
Though acknowledging natural law, Enlightenment philosophers and scientists did so primarily as an enemy of the Church, in an attempt to sweep away any need for, or recognition of, Special Revelation and the divine law it contains. Enlightenment “Natural Theology” represented the notion that all there is to be known of God can be determined from a study of nature. A recognition of God and His law in the created order, while rejecting specific knowledge of Him or of His will from Special Revelation, is the foundation of modernistic deism. Following from this foundation, very sophisticated and intellectually honest attempts to systematize nature produced clear evidence of design and of a nameless “Intelligent Designer” that was admitted with little question.

Yet, the discoveries of science did not yield a tranquility and peaceful harmony as, perhaps, some may have thought that neutering revealed religion, by depriving it of Special Revelation and of a voice in society on that basis, would achieve. Instead, the same observations of the primitives manifested themselves: natural systems are inherently corrupt, they deteriorate and decay; cells, like animals, attack and devour one another; there is struggle, exploitation, and miserable death at every level of nature; over time, entropy is the dominant reality of the universe. Escaping the moral consequences of such observations, it seems, by the end of the 19th Century, even the deity was eliminated from natural law (some of the final blows being struck by the philosophical contributions of Immanuel Kant), making “natural law” entirely anthropocentric3.

By this time also, under the force of modernist natural theology emanating from the Enlightenment, Christianity had been subordinated by Western Society, becoming merely a cultural element, a situation to which Karl Barth and others responded by entirely rejecting natural law as a valid category of God’s law4. This is why the “religious right” in America today is criticized for obsession with enacting “Biblical legislation.” Being in many ways the theological descendants of Karl Barth, they have little, if any, recognition of natural law, and insist on nearly exclusive use of divine law regardless of whether the Ecclesiastical or Political estates are involved. These ideals of pop-Christianity are set against those of modern and post-modern Western Society, which has in the past century rejected any notion that law has a transcendent source, whether naturally or divinely derived, in favor of amoral and arbitrary legal-positivism, and more recently, post-modern deconstructionism5.

General Revelation does not fully reveal God’s Law
General Revelation has long been recognized as sufficient to suggest the existence, power and glory of a Deity, to prompt man’s recognition of its transcendence and authority, and to derive from the testimony of Creation’s order a moral law for the ordering of society. The Scriptures and the Confessions clearly extol this witness of Creation, and testify to the law of God that is written on the hearts of men, such that, even apart from the Scriptures, mankind is without excuse (Ro. 1:18-21). Moreover, observation of natural and pagan societies bear out the testimony of Scripture in this regard: on the basis of God’s witness to Himself within His created order, man has every reason for a healthy fear of God and a recognition of his need to either appease God’s wrath or to purchase His protection. But such fear and recognition is a basis for works-righteousness, only. The law revealed in General Revelation, alone, is not sufficient to reveal to mankind his truly helpless state before God, to reveal to mankind the true depth of his depravity, nor to reveal the truly fearsome wrath of God toward sin and toward those who commit sin. When we say “Law and Gospel,” it is not General Revelation or Natural Law to which we refer. It is God’s Divine Law, revealed to us only in the Holy Scriptures, which He has personally, through His prophets, given to humanity.

The Law in Special Revelation

The Scriptures reveal to mankind the true reality of his condition before God. When God created the world, He created it “good,” or “fit for its designed purpose” (Ge. 1:4,10,12,18,21,25). On the sixth day, when God created man in His image, holy and righteous (Ge. 1:26-27), He designated man as the crown of His Creation (Co. 3:10; Ep. 4:24), as “very good” – or exceedingly fit and in harmony with His purposes (Ge. 1:31) – and gave him dominion over it (Ge. 1:28-30), whereupon, He rested from, or ceased, His creative effort (Ge. 2:1-3). The Laws of Nature established, Creation proceeded to function as God designed it. There was no sin, thus, there was neither death nor corruption. Man, together with all of Creation, enjoyed a harmonious relationship with God.

Man’s Fall and its Consequences
At the instigation of the Devil, however, Adam transgressed the Law of God (Ge. 3:1-13), falling into sin (1 Jn. 3:4). As a result, corruption entered Creation (Ge. 6:11-12) and became part of Adam’s nature, poisoning his relationship with God. Harmony turned into dissonance: Adam sought to evade God, hiding from Him as He approached (Ge. 3:8). Peace between God and Adam became conflict: Creation along with Adam and his descendants were cursed by God, and He ejected the first humans from Eden (Ge. 3:14-19,23-24). Adam’s nature thus corrupted by sin, his fallen state has propagated to his descendants (Ge. 1:28; 5:3; 6:12b; 46:26), infecting all of mankind (Ps. 14:1-3; Ro. 3:10-19); all of Creation groans under the weight of sin (Ro. 8:22). No longer unblemished as Adam was before the Fall, mankind is now corrupt in the eyes of God. He is sinful both in the nature he has inherited from Adam through his parents (Original Sin) (Ep. 2:3b, Ro. 5:12, Ps 51:5) and in his works (Actual Sin) – that is, in his thoughts (Ge. 6:5; Mt. 15:19; He. 9:14), words (Ro. 3:13-14), and actions (Mk. 7:21-23; Jn. 3:19; Ro. 8:13) – by what he does (sins of commission) and by what he fails to do (Ja. 4:17) (sins of omission).

As a result of the Fall, mankind is sinful in his nature, he has neither sinlessness nor holiness – he is sinful from the time of his conception (Ps. 51:5), his mind dwells only upon evil and regards God’s truth as foolishness (Ge. 6:5; 1 Co. 2:14), he is by nature the enemy of God (Ro. 8:7), and by his works he can in nowise merit favor with Him (Ep. 2:1,3; Ro. 3:10-18). As an enemy of God, he is in a perpetual state of open rebellion against God. Being contrary to his fallen nature, it is impossible for man to perform the works required of him under God’s Law, and consistent with his fallen nature, he actively struggles against it. The Law is thus a curse (Ga. 3:10); it binds those who are under it to obedience while at the same time stimulating their rebellion (Ro. 7:7).

God hates sin. God hates sinners. Sinners deserve God’s punishment.
Because God and His Law are perfect (De. 32:4; Ps. 18:30; Ps. 19:7a), it is necessary for man to possess the same perfect righteousness as God before there can be any fellowship with Him (Mt. 5:48). To know God, is to obey His Law (1 Jn. 1:3). To love God, is to obey His Law (Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn. 1:4-5). Transgression of God’s Law is sin (1 Jn. 3:4) – it is the opposite of knowing and loving God, it is active rebellion against God. Naturally, therefore, God hates sin, and will purge His Creation of everything corrupted by it (2 Pe. 3:10). God also hates sinners (Ps. 5:5; Ps. 11:5; Le. 20:23; Pr. 6:16-19; Ho. 9:15), and on account of their rebellion, has set Himself against them. Therefore, being perfectly Just, God demands that man’s sin be punished (Co. 3:25), and the Just punishment for sin is death and eternal separation from God (Ro. 6:23a) in the torments of Hell.

The Natural Man seeks to appease God on his own terms
At this point, naturally agreeing that the Creator God is powerful, righteous, and angry with sin, the reasonable man, according to his natural recognition of Natural Law, rightly reasons that God’s wrath must be appeased if he is to avoid eternal punishment. There must be atonement for the wrongs committed by man, and a change in man by which God no longer sees him as sinful. Yet also, the reasonable man sees that providing sufficient payment for sin and living righteously will be a challenge. The former will require his life. Perhaps dedicating and giving his life to God, as a sacrificial act before it is demanded of him by God, will suffice? In the latter case, righteous living is opposed to his very nature as man. Yet, perhaps the truly determined and zealous man can overcome himself, gain victory over sin in his life, and live the rest of his life only for God? Surely, God would be proud of such devotion, regard such a one as meritworthy, and reward him with temporal and eternal blessing! In such ways, man resorts to his natural inclinations as he struggles to find his own way to appease God – testing the good he thinks he does against the reward he thinks he has received as a result of it. He does so because he has not yet heard God’s Divine Law in the full force of its fearsome terror.

We are all by nature the children of wrath
    But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. (Is. 64:6-7)

    As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Ro. 3:10-20)

    But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Co. 2:14)

    For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. ...I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. (Ro. 7:14-21)

    But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. (Is. 59:2)
As long as sin inheres in man’s flesh, it is impossible for him to render the righteous works necessary for meritorious standing before God. The Bible says that man is incapable of mustering the intellectual assent (1 Co. 2:14; Ro. 3:11) or force of will (Jn. 1:13), much less the outward deeds (Ro. 3:20), that would rise to any level of merit before God. Man cannot call upon God, move himself toward God, or take hold of Him (Is. 64:7). Those works man considers good are, before God, spoiled by the evil within him (Ro. 7:21). Before Him, all of man’s righteousness is as filthy rags (Is. 64:6). All attempts of mankind to glorify God on the basis of his prayers, worship, acts of service or other works he considers good or meritworthy, are hopelessly infected with sin; thus, God will not grant merit to and accept man’s works, whether they be good thoughts, fine words or pious acts of worship or dedicated service – it is offensive to Him, He turns his face from it, and He rejects it (Is. 59:2).

Mankind, in his natural state, is spiritually dead in trespasses and sin (Co. 2:10-15; Ep. 2:1-10); and this spiritual death putrifies his flesh, the stench from which is intolerable in the nostrils of God. Each person, like all of Creation, is in a state of decay, and from the time of his birth marches steadily toward eternal death6. These are the true wages of sin: eternal death and eternal separation from God in a place He has prepared for the devil and all his angels – Hell. There is nothing we can do to help ourselves. Nothing. In our nature we reject all the things of God (Ro. 3:10-18, Ro. 8:7-8), and are in open rebellion against Him. All of our works are only evil before God, and in the face of His Divine Law, we are impelled toward even greater rebellion. On account of our sin, we are separated from God, He has hidden His face from us, and He will not hear us. It is impossible for us to achieve meritorious standing in the eyes of God. We are helpless before God Who has prepared His throne for judgment, and will judge the world according to righteousness (Ps. 9:8-9). We cannot save ourselves from His righteous judgment; we deserve His eternal wrath and punishment. If we are to escape it, we need to be saved from it. We need a Saviour to do this for us. Without a Saviour, we are doomed.

The Use of God’s Divine Law in the Church – its Ecclesiastical, or Second Use
This is the Church’s use of the Law – unattenuated by the Gospel or by human reason. Equally applicable to all of humanity, its purpose is not to drive us to obedience, but to work contrition and to drive us to a Saviour. In this way, the Second use of the Law prepares the way for the Gospel7.

  1. Johnson, T. (2005). Natural Law Ethics: An Evangelical Proposal. Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft. pp. 15-18.
  2. Ibid. pg. 28.
  3. Montgomery, J. (2002). Christ our Advocate: Studies in Polemical Theology, Jurisprudence, and Canon Law. Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft. pg. 20.
  4. Johnson, T. (2005). Natural Law Ethics: An Evangelical Proposal. Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft. pp. 19-23.
  5. Montgomery, J. (2002). Christ our Advocate: Studies in Polemical Theology, Jurisprudence, and Canon Law. Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft. pg. 32.
  6. Eternal Death: Physical death while in a state of Spiritual death.
  7. Which the reader, who is, no doubt, depressed at this point, can expect is forthcoming, about mid-week this week.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Five Minutes Daily with Luther - December 17

(Reprinted with permission from Five Minutes Daily with Luther: Daily Lessons from the Writings of Martin Luther, by John Theodore Mueller.)

“Thy word is a lamp to my feet, And a light to my path. . . . I have inherited Thy testimonies forever, For they are the joy of my heart” Psalm 119:105,111.

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I prove that the Bible is the Word of God as follows; All things that have been and now are in the world, including how things now stand and transpire in the world, these things were written in some detail at the beginning, in the first Book of Moses concerning the Creation. And just as God made and created it, even so it was, and even so it stands to this present day. And although King Alexander the Great, the kingdom of Egypt, the empire of Babel, the Persian, Grecian, and Roman monarchs, the Emperors Julius and Augustus, most fiercely raged and swelled against this book, utterly to suppress and destroy it; yet notwithstanding, they could not prevail at all: they are all gone and vanished; but this Book has remained throughout time, and will remain unmoved, in full and ample manner, as it was written at the first. But who kept it and preserved it from such great and raging power, or who defends it still? Truly no human creature, but only God Himself, who is the right Master thereof; and it is a great wonder that it has been so long kept and preserved, for the devil and the world are great enemies of it. The devil (doubtless) has destroyed many good books in the Church, as he has rooted out and slain many saints, concerning whom we have now no knowledge. But the Bible he has left untouched. Homer, Virgil, and others like them, are profitable and ancient books, but in comparison with the Bible, they are as nothing.
But still Thy Law and Gospel, Lord,
Have lessons more divine;
Not earth stands firmer than Thy Word,
Nor stars so nobly shine.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Anti-Semitic sensitivity in the new NIV

The updated New International Version of the Bible is now available online at It is set to be in print by early next year. The WELS has formed an official committee to review this new translation, to see if it will be an acceptable replacement for the 1984 version of the NIV, which will supposedly cease to be in print once the new version is published. Since the NIV is the translation that WELS has decided to use in all its publications for the last 25 years, this is a big deal.

We won’t be able to offer a complete review of the © 2010 NIV here at IL, but as we are able, we’ll critique it little by little.

As I was doing some sermon work for Advent 4 (John 1:19-28 - Historic Lectionary), I noticed a subtle change in wording in the new NIV.

1984 NIV
    John 1:19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.

2010 NIV
    John 1:19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leadersa in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.

The same change had been made in the widely rejected Today’s New International Version (© 2005), but the 2010 version adds the following footnote that was not in the 2005 version:

    a John 1:19: The Greek term traditionally translated the Jews (hoi Ioudaioi) refers here and elsewhere in John’s Gospel to those Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus; also in 5:10, 15, 16; 7:1, 11, 13; 9:22; 18:14, 28, 36; 19:7, 12, 31, 38; 20:19.

The phrase “the Jews” (hoi Ioudaioi) occurs 59 times in the Gospel of John and 48 times in the Book of Acts. The 2010 NIV alters this simple phrase 30/59 times in John and 20/48 times in the Book of Acts.

Whenever “the Jews” are spoken of kindly or in a neutral way, the phrase “the Jews” is left alone.

Whenever “the Jews” are persecuting Jesus or his disciples, the phrase is altered or qualified. “The Jews there” (Jn. 6:41). “They” (Jn. 8:52). “The Jews who were there gathered around him” (Jn. 10:24). “His Jewish opponents” (Jn. 10:31). “The Jews gathered there” (Jn. 19:4). “The Jewish leaders insisted” (Jn. 19:7). “Other Jews” (Acts 17:5). “Some of them” (Acts 17:13).

There is also a subtle change in translation in Matthew 27:25:

1984 NIV
    All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

2010 NIV
    All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”

Since the Greek has no verb here, one must be supplied. The KJV, NKJV, ESV, NIV 1984, NASB, and Luther 1545 all translate with a form of the subjunctive: “Let it be…”

The change to “is” is, again, a subtle change, and we would have no argument against it as an isolated grammatical decision, since we don’t believe that the Jews gathered there on Good Friday invoked some sort of divinely inspired perpetual curse on all those of Jewish descent in the future. This verse has been misused by some as a twisted sort of approbation of the mistreatment of Jews over the centuries.

But when viewed in the light of all the other changes in language in the NIV 2010, this change seems to indicate a hypersensitivity to the perceived anti-Semitic nature of this verse. “His blood is on us and on our children!” keeps any perceived curse in the present tense, that is, to those Jews gathered there on that day and their immediate children.

The problem with all these changes is that none of them is called for grammatically. In many cases, the plain Word of God is being added to or changed, not for the sake of good English grammar, but for the sake of political correctness. This is unacceptable.

We all know there is no perfect translation of Holy Scripture. And we may not all agree that the NIV is the best translation for use in our churches. The updated translation is providing our synod with a wonderful opportunity to evaluate other translations, and to move in a different direction if the new translation fails the test.

I hope the translation committee takes the anti-Semitic hypersensitivity into account as they carry out their critical evaluation. We’ll continue our critique as issues are identified.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Five Minutes Daily with Luther - December 10

(Reprinted with permission from Five Minutes Daily with Luther: Daily Lessons from the Writings of Martin Luther, by John Theodore Mueller.)

“Those who follow after wickedness draw near; They are far from Thy law. Thou art near, O LORD, And all Thy commandments are truth” Psalm 119:150-151.

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Dr. Justus Jonas told Dr. Martin Luther of a noble and powerful Misnian, who above all things occupied himself in amassing gold and silver, and was so buried in darkness, that he gave no heed to the five books of Moses, and had even said to Duke John Frederic, who was discoursing with him upon the Gospel: “Sir, the Gospel pays no interest.” “Have you no grains?” interposed Luther, and then told this fable: A lion making a great feast, invited all the beasts, and with them some swine. When all manner of dainties were set before the guests, the swine asked: “Have you no grains?” Even so in these days, continued the doctor, it is with our epicureans. We preachers set before them the most dainty and costly dishes, as everlasting salvation, the remission of sins, and God’s grace; but they, like swine, turn up their snouts, and ask for guilders; offer a cow nutmeg, and she will reject it for old hay. This reminds me of the answer of certain parishioners to their minister, who had been earnestly exhorting them to come and listen to the Word of God. “Well,” said they, “if you will tap a good barrel of beer for us, we’ll come with all our hearts and hear you.” The Gospel at Wittenberg is like to the rain which, falling upon a river, produces little effect; but descending upon a dry, thirsty soil, renders it fertile.
Bread of our souls, whereon we feed,
True manna from on high;
Our guide and chart, wherein we read
Of realms beyond the sky:
Lord, grant us all aright to learn
The wisdom it imparts;
And to its heavenly teaching turn.
With simple, childlike hearts.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What Part of the Word "Wrong" Don't We All Seem to Understand These Days?!

A fellow WELS Pastor asked me recently, "Why are we afraid as individual pastors to practice church discipline?" I think it's basically because we don’t like having to come right out and tell an erring member, “You’re wrong.” They won’t like it. They won't like us. Plus, we sometimes wonder to ourselves, since we also make plenty of mistakes, do we really have the right to say it?

What is true with individual Pastors and congregations is also true – perhaps even more so – with church bodies. It used to be that we Pastors were taught and were expected not just to speak clear enough to be understood, but to speak so very clearly so as not to be misunderstood. That standard has disappeared. Now, when a statement is made that sounds wrong, the claim is often made, "Oh, that can be understood correctly. He wasn't really wrong, he was just not as clear as he could have been."

There is great reluctance in recent years to saying that some actions or words are "wrong." Instead, other terms are used in place of wrong – words like: unclear, incorrect, misspoken, misunderstood, hazy, confused, imprecise, poorly chosen, improper, impolite, negative, regretful and the like. Here's what my dictionary gives as a definition of the word - "wrong – crooked, twisted. 1. not morally right or just; sinful; wicked; immoral. 2. not in accordance with an established standard, ... 3. not suitable or appropriate ... 4. contrary to truth, fact, etc..." (Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, College Edition, World Publishing Co., Cleveland, OH)

Granted, my dictionary was published in 1968, but note especially the moral and ethical connotations in the above definition. This meaning denotes something bad and evil, and therefore sinful and in need of repentance, contrition, and forgiveness. But the word is seldom used anymore with this meaning. Yet it should be! This is especially true when it comes to the doctrines and practices in the visible Christian church.

For example, the teaching of the Roman Church concerning purgatory is not merely a misunderstanding of Scripture, or a hazy idea of the afterlife, it is wrong, evil, and sinful, and needs to be totally abhorred and rejected by all Bible-believing Christians! The same is true of that church's teaching about indulgences, or Mary as the "Co-Redemptrix," as well as many other false teachings. And the same is also true of dsipensationalism, millennialism, and the Rapture, among many other false teachings of the Reformed/Evangelical camp. There are all heretical. They do not meet the standard of Holy Scripture. Therefore they are wrong – wicked, sinful, and evil. Period!

The Intrepid Lutherans blog has shown what is wrong with allowing sectarianism even a foothold in any congregation that purports to be a confessional Lutheran church, and with the clearly deficient Kokomo statements regarding justification, among other things. We have also made it clear that making public use of another person's intellectual work, be it in sermons, prayers, services, hymns, music, or otherwise, without stating clearly that it is not your own work, is wrong, thus, immoral and unethical.

However, in doing this we believe we have been constructive, positive, polite, and patient. We have not deliberately and purposely attacked people's character or questioned their integrity. We have not tried to read their hearts nor have we expressed doubts about their possessing saving faith. We have simply and clearly said that some people's actions and statements are wrong. We very appropriately looked for recognition of the wrongs and a change away from wrong actions and statements.

And neither was this merely our opinion, but a fair and just comparison with the standards of God's Word and the Lutheran Confessions. We claim no divine wisdom or special powers, but simply "call them as we see them" – wrong – no more, no less.

If some see us as wrong, we expect similar treatment – to be confronted directly, openly, politely, and publicly, and held to the same standards of the Bible and the Book of Concord, with dignity and patience. If it can be proven we are in the wrong, we will confess and ask for pardon, and then we will change our words and actions accordingly.

By the same token, when we call some practice or words wrong in the future, we expect open and civil debate, and if we are proven correct, an honest admission of wrong-doing and an appropriate change in behavior. We do not feel that this is too much to expect or too much to ask.

Wrong is wrong and right is right, and to quote Mr. Kipling concerning such opposites, "never the twain shall meet!" That's as it should be, especially in something as important as the eternal destination of souls!

And that's the way we see it!

Pastor Spencer

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