Friday, August 15, 2014

“Grace Alone” in Romans 11:6

Romans 11:6 (NKJ), “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
What an interesting verse!
  • Rhetorically

Paul seems to make his case that grace and works are mutually exclusive. You cannot have both, or a mix and match of both. This distinction is very important as so many faith traditions and sectarian groups mix grace and works in some way. But in Paul’s thinking, it was one or the other, not both/and.
  • Historically

Grace alone was one of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation. According to Luther and the Reformers of that era, salvation was by Scriptures alone, by faith alone, and by grace alone. The antithetic to both faith and grace was works. Romans 11:6 spoke with great clarity on this very issue (as did Peter in Acts 15:7-11).
  • Textually

Both sentences of Romans 11:6, found in the NKJ above, are also found in Luther’s 1545 German edition and the 1616 French Geneva (both of which I own). Further, both sentences are also found in the Greek Orthodox tradition (e.g. another text I own titled, Hv Avgi,a Grafh,).
Interestingly, however, in the Latin Vulgate tradition, only the first sentence is found. The absence of the second sentence goes back as far as the 1530 Jacques LeFebvres d’Étaples New Testament (according to a PDF that I printed).
Therefore, the Eastern-Western traditions are quite distinct on this verse!
  • Does it matter?

Yes. The two sentences form a very strong juxtaposition of faith and works in a non-equivocal way. Together they form antithetically synonymous statements with no wiggle room for any cross-pollination of grace and works. Paul by his two antithetical statements argued that grace and works cannot be mixed. Salvation is either by grace or it is of works. Any combination of the two nullifies the meaning of either grace or works.
It is obvious that this teaching of Paul is incompatible with the history of Western Church doctrine since its development of Sacraments (works) as “means of grace.” This practice predated Master Peter the Lombard (~1096-1164 A.D.) and his Four Books of Sentences. And Lombard himself relied very heavily on Augustine (354-430 A.D.) and his On Christian Doctrine and other writings.
Notice that the issue here is not of an exegetical nature—it is predominantly a historical-doctrinal issue, with exegetical ramifications. For, if the second sentence is not considered a part of the text, it is not available to the exegete. So this case shows that textual criticism trumps exegesis, since it provides the phrases and words to be analyzed and exegeted by the exegete!
Thus the science of textual criticism is important for exegetical reasons and doctrinal reasons. Whether one ought or ought not to include the second sentence in Romans 11:6 has very strong interpretive, ecclesiastical, and doctrinal ramifications. And because the issue at hand relates directly to salvation or the reception of grace, the mixing of grace and works may be one of the most significant doctrinal battles that exists. If salvation by grace alone outside of any work is that important, then how one reads Romans 11:6 carries with it a lot of weight.
My original reason for handwriting Reformation texts of the Bible was to immerse my mind in the biblical rationale that led the Reformers and their followers to be die by the hundreds of thousands for their faith. Romans 11:6 provides a biblical validation for their martyrdom and for their belief in salvation by Scriptures alone, by faith alone, and by grace alone, outside of any works.
Romans 11:6 (NKJ), “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Six Phases in Bible Translation

Not long ago, I began considering the translation and publication of Bibles as a type of earthly chess game—perhaps akin to gaming with divinely-revealed truth.
In Deuteronomy 17:18 God commanded the newly crowned King of Israel to make for himself a copy of the scroll “from before the priests, the Levites.” Later in Deuteronomy 31:24-26 we find Moses depositing the original manuscript of Deuteronomy to the care of the Levites to be placed beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord. Certainly, God was aware of the corruption of manuscripts, as was Moses. So He made provision for the books of the Bible to be kept in pure form.
We have two miracles here: (1) the miracle of inspiration—that God would actually “empty Himself” to communicate into any human language; and (2) the miracle of preservation—that through competing churches, numerous manuscripts, and varying language translations, God would sovereignly maintain the purity of His inspired words.
“The words of the LORD are pure words, Like silver tried in a furnace of earth, Purified seven times. You shall keep them, O LORD, You shall preserve them from this generation forever” (Psalm 12:6-7)
So, many manuscripts are not a bane, but a blessing. Many languages are not a bane, but a blessing. Many churches are not a bane, but a blessing. Consider the Chaldean church now being displaced and massacred in Iraq. Their Scriptures are in Syriac. They are an ancient church quite unrelated to our Western Church history. The existence of the Bible in their language and in their archives is a great blessing to worldwide Christianity.
But in the powerful Western Church there has a series of phases that have taken place over the last 200 years. In this blog I would like to analyze what these moves appear to have been, and leave the implications of these moves to the mind and thought of the esteemed reader.
  • Centralization
In the Western Church, the first move was a centralized language and centralized Scripture. The centralized Scripture was given to us by Jerome and the language he used was Latin. The Vulgate was apparently commissioned by Bishop of Rome Damasus in 383, roughly 50 years after Constantine took the capital of the Roman Empire and moved it to the Greek-speaking Byzantium. Constantine’s move initiated 1,000+ of warfare and struggle between the Greek-speaking church and the Latin-speaking church—both of whom had their own language version of the Bible.
Gregory the First (590-604), Bishop and Patriarch of Rome, put into place rulings that gave preeminence to the Latin language in the Western Church. Simultaneously, in 602, Emperor Maurice was assassinated, being the last coregent over both the Eastern and Western Roman Empires. No unified political head, no unified language, and no unified church. The Roman Empire split into several factions.
Meanwhile the Western Roman Empire lived on, being ruled politically sometimes from France, sometimes from Germany, and sometimes from Austria or Spain. And wherever the Roman Empire lived on, Latin was the language of both church and academia.
  • Vernacular Translation
In England, a reforming movement began to spread which included a vernacular translation of the Latin Vulgate by John Wycliffe and the evangelizing of his followers, the Lollards. The Protestant Reformation then brought a renewed interest in both Greek and Hebrew, and led to the translation of the Bible into many vernacular languages. In 1522, the New Testament was translated from the Greek into German by Luther and in 1534 into French by Olivétan.
Vernacular Bible translation and dissemination moved into high gear with the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1803. Instead of the Latin Vulgate being the version of choice, the King James Bible became the prototype for hundreds of vernacular Bible translations all across the world. In that same century, due to colonization and mission work, the sun never set on the British Empire.
  • Source Text Debate
Two moves shifted the preeminence of the King James Bible. First was the controversy over source texts of the New Testament. Once the Plymouth Brethren Tregelles began to publish Greek critical editions of New Testament books, the floodgates were opened, and critical edition texts flourished.
  • Translation Theory Debate
Second, in the English language, were the arguments related to the ancient renditions in the King James, along with criticism of its wooden or literalistic translation model.
However, with the removal of the King James as the model Bible, and the Majority text as the Greek basis for translation, the problem shifted to mainstreaming another Greek text as the basis, and shifting the translation model from the wooden literalism of the Protestant Reformers to another more fluid model.
  • Recentralization
Enter the United Bible Society. In 1946 the United Bible Society was founded upon the ashes of post-WW2 Europe. It combined the wealth and influence of numerous large bible societies. These societies deeded the credibility of their names and personnel to the German Bible Society’s work on Greek New Testament manuscripts, as well as Eugene Nida’s Dynamic Equivalence translation theory. These changes happened during the tumultuous 60s.
The impact of this centralizing process was not ignored by Rome. In 1964 Cardinal Bea met with Eugene Nida of the American Bible Society and Olivier Béguin of the United Bible Society to develop a document by which Protestants and Catholics could cooperate in translating the Bible, a document which did not ignore the use of original source texts. Yes, this document was ratified by both the United Bible Society and the Vatican’s Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity on Pentecost Sunday, 1968. The revised 1987 version, now in force, is available online at the Vatican website under the title, “Guidelines for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible.” The esteemed reader would be wise to familiarize himself with the contents of this sweeping agreement.
  • Digitization
Now to digitization. We are now in a digital world. Printing is now a digitized process, and blogposts remain in the digital cloud, being read in a digital format. Books, magazines, and newspapers are increasingly digitizing to remain ahead of the curve.
The Bible is being digitized too. And in order to read a digital Bible one needs: electricity, access to the Internet, a device to read it, and a source.
Chart: "Plays and counter plays in the history of English Bible translation"
Paper: "Virtualized Biblical Authority"

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"He Sent Them Two and Two"

Mark 6:7, “And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits.
Luke 10:1, “After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go.
At first glance the fact that Jesus sent out His disciples in pairs seems harmless enough. However, the divine example may well provide some practical lessons for evangelism today. So, what are some implications of “Two and Two” evangelism?
To begin, two and two evangelism implies intentionality. If one person is involved in evangelism all that is needed is the individual decision of the will. However, when two are involved it requires two wills to be in agreement.
In this case, two and two evangelism is more than “as you go” evangelism. A common view of the participle in Matthew 28:19 is that Christ is not calling us to “go out of our way” necessarily, but rather to make disciples “as we are going.” While it is important to be involved in evangelism and discipleship “as we are going,” Christ’s example of two and two evangelism points out that Christ’s intent in commanding Christians to go is more than just “as you go.” Christ wants us to plan evangelism mission trips, like two and two evangelism.
Two and two evangelism assumes initiative evangelism, rather than just passive or reactive evangelism. It assumes that those pairing up to share the gospel are sharing the gospel every chance they get. While evangelism comes in many forms, planning to do outreach necessitates including outreach in the plan, preferably as the purpose and centerpiece of the plan.
Two and two evangelism implies the need to find a partner to accompany us in evangelism. Finding a partner to collaborate in evangelism is a challenge. But when an evangelist has found a faithful partner with whom he can do evangelism, he has found someone who is a blessing. More on that below.
Finding a partner assumes choosing a time slot and organizing to be away from other activities, such as family activities or study. Finding a regular partner also assumes a beginning and an end of the time in evangelism outreach.
Two by two evangelism cannot be haphazard, or else the bond between the two evangelists will break down. Vision, clarity, and direction are needed. There is a need for agreement as to where the evangelism is to be focused and how the gospel is to be communicated. Mutual respect is needed to reach a true level of ongoing partnership.
Remember how Paul stressed that he wanted to reach the “regions beyond”?
Rom 15:20, “And so I have made it my aim to evangelize, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man's foundation
Paul was sharing his vision with those in the church in Rome, some of whom had been evangelism partners with him, such as Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:18; Rom 16:3).
When more than one person is involved in evangelism, a lot of tangential aspects come into the equation. It appears that Jesus knew of this complexity when He sent His disciples two and two.
There may be travel involved in two and two evangelism. Perhaps literature will be needed in the proper language of those who are to be reached. Bibles are always helpful as the foundation for the gospel message, as well as the focus of the Holy Spirit’s work.
  • Accountability to be regularly involved in evangelism.
  • Accountability as to how the gospel is shared
  • Accountability in dealing with open and closed people
  • Accountability in avoiding dangerous or potentially compromising situations.
Two and two evangelism also allows for partnership in the gospel (Phil 1:5). With colaboring in evangelism comes deep bonds of friendship and Christian love.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, two and two evangelism is biblical, being exemplified by Jesus and the apostle Paul.
Some do not like the sound of “missions” as it seems to them to be militaristic, imperialistic, or unnatural. Nevertheless, two and two evangelism is biblical. It must be done humbly and with love and reverence for those to whom we are sent. But it is biblical.
It has been my privilege this summer to go out for evangelism every Tuesday afternoon with Omar, a student from Midwestern. We have had a great time together, deepened our relationship, and reached lost people with the gospel.

Will you consider joining an evangelism team this fall? Perhaps God is calling you to start an evangelism team at your church? Just apply Christ’s principle of two and two evangelism and see what God does with it!