Archive for the ‘Common Errors’ Category

Response to Paul Hoffer

August 6, 2008

Paul Hoffer, who submits to the dictates pope Benedict XVI, has a misleading article entitled, “A Protestant Proving the Superiority of Scriptural Revelation by Quoting from the Deuterocanonical Book of Wisdom of Solomon.” (link to Mr. Hoffer’s article)

Let’s handle the headline first.

1) The “Protestant” who cited Scripture is me, but the “Protestant” who was proving the Superiority of Scriptural Revelation was Carl F. H. Henry.

2) I quoted Scripture, not the the apocryphal book entitled the “Wisdom of Solomon.” In fact I quoted from the inspired books of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.

3) I did not quote those passages, in this case, to prove the Superiority of Scriptural Revelation, but simply to distinguish Special Revelation (Scripture and other Prophecy) from General Revelation (aka the light of Nature).

Now, let’s turn to the body of Mr. Hoffer’s post. After essentially reproducing my post in its entirety, Mr. Hoffer remarks:

Does anyone else find it ironic that the proof texts for the notion that Scriptural Revelation has priority over general revelation that Turretinfan, a Protestant who follows the dictates of John Calvin, offers the reader are two passages where St. Paul is quoting from the Deuterocanonical book of Wisdom of Solomon (Rom. 1:18-23=Wisdom 13:1-9; Hebrews 1:1-4=Wisdom 7:26)?

I answer:
A) Again, note that these are not presented as “proof texts” (though they may well prove the matter, that was not the point) for Carl F.H. Henry’s statement, but simply to educate the reader as to the difference between general and special revelation.
B) Although Mr. Hoffer may follow the dictates of Benedict XVI, Pastor Calvin is simply a persuasive authority on Scripture. He was a wise man, but only Scripture has the ability to bind my conscience, not even the words of such a great Christian man as John Calvin.
C) The Apostle Paul was the author of Romans, but the tradition that Paul was the author of Hebrews is questionable at best. There is, in fact, a good Scriptural argument against Pauline authorship of Hebrews, but I do not wish to sidetrack this post with that argument.
D) Paul and the Author of Hebrews do not quote from the Book of Wisdom in the passages of Scripture I quoted.
i) Romans 1:18-23 does not quote Wisdom 13:1-9

Romans 1:18-23
18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20For 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; so that they are without excuse: 21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

Wisdom 13:1-9
1Surely vain are all men by nature, who are ignorant of God, and could not out of the good things that are seen know him that is: neither by considering the works did they acknowledge the workmaster; 2But deemed either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the violent water, or the lights of heaven, to be the gods which govern the world. 3With whose beauty if they being delighted took them to be gods; let them know how much better the Lord of them is: for the first author of beauty hath created them. 4But if they were astonished at their power and virtue, let them understand by them, how much mightier he is that made them. 5For by the greatness and beauty of the creatures proportionably the maker of them is seen. 6But yet for this they are the less to be blamed: for they peradventure err, seeking God, and desirous to find him. 7For being conversant in his works they search him diligently, and believe their sight: because the things are beautiful that are seen. 8Howbeit neither are they to be pardoned. 9For if they were able to know so much, that they could aim at the world; how did they not sooner find out the Lord thereof?

Undoubtedly, there is a similarity of theme between the two, but the relation is not Paul quoting the Wisdom of Solomon. In case you think the issue is the translation (both are taken from the King James Version above), I have provided the Greek original and Latin Vulgate translations below.

ii) Likewise Hebrews 1:1-4 is not quoting from Wisdom 7:26.

Hebrews 1:1-4
1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; 4Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

Wisdom 7:26 For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness.

Again, there is some similarity between the description of “Wisdom” in the book of Wisdom and the description of Jesus in the book of Hebrews, but the author of the latter is not quoting from the former. Again, in case you think the issue is the translation (both are taken from the King James Version above), I have provided the Greek original and Latin Vulgate translations below in the respective Greek and Latin appendices.
E) Even if Paul and the author of Hebrews had quoted from the uninspired book popularly called the “Wisdom of Solomon,” that would not be particularly significant. After all, Paul wrote to Titus:

Titus 1:12 One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.

Yet no one believes that the pre-Christian Cretan poet Epimenides authored Holy Scriptures. If Paul drew on uninspired pagan poets, it would be no surprise that Paul might draw on uninspired Hellenstic Jewish writers as well. Thus, even if Paul were quoting or even merely plagiarizing Wisdom, it would really have no particular bearing on the canon issue, as Mr. Hoffer seems inclined to suggest.

In short, with all due respect to Mr. Hoffer, I don’t find any real merit in his post.


Latin Appendix

Romans 1:18-23
18revelatur enim ira Dei de caelo super omnem impietatem et iniustitiam hominum eorum qui veritatem in iniustitiam detinent 19quia quod notum est Dei manifestum est in illis Deus enim illis manifestavit 20invisibilia enim ipsius a creatura mundi per ea quae facta sunt intellecta conspiciuntur sempiterna quoque eius virtus et divinitas ut sint inexcusabiles 21quia cum cognovissent Deum non sicut Deum glorificaverunt aut gratias egerunt sed evanuerunt in cogitationibus suis et obscuratum est insipiens cor eorum 22dicentes enim se esse sapientes stulti facti sunt 23et mutaverunt gloriam incorruptibilis Dei in similitudinem imaginis corruptibilis hominis et volucrum et quadrupedum et serpentium

Wisdom 13:1-9
1vani sunt autem omnes homines quibus non subest scientia Dei et de his quae videntur bona non potuerunt intellegere eum qui est neque operibus adtendentes agnoverunt quis esset artifex 2sed aut ignem aut spiritum aut citatum aerem aut gyrum stellarum aut nimiam aquam aut solem et lunam rectores orbis terrarum deos putaverunt 3quorum si specie delectati deos putaverunt sciant quanto dominator eorum speciosior est speciei enim generator haec omnia constituit 4aut si virtutem et opera eorum mirati sunt intellegant ab ipsis quoniam qui haec constituit fortior est illis 5a magnitudine enim speciei et creaturae cognoscibiliter poterit horum creator videri 6sed tamen adhuc in his minor est querella et hii enim fortassis errant Deum quaerentes et volentes invenire 7etenim cum in operibus illius conversentur inquirunt et persuasum habent quoniam bona sunt quae videntur 8iterum autem nec his debet ignosci 9si enim tantum potuerunt scire ut possent aestimare saeculum quomodo huius Dominum non facilius invenerunt

Hebrews 1:1-4
1multifariam et multis modis olim Deus loquens patribus in prophetis 2novissime diebus istis locutus est nobis in Filio quem constituit heredem universorum per quem fecit et saecula 3qui cum sit splendor gloriae et figura substantiae eius portansque omnia verbo virtutis suae purgationem peccatorum faciens sedit ad dexteram Maiestatis in excelsis 4tanto melior angelis effectus quanto differentius prae illis nomen hereditavit

Wisdom 7:26 candor est enim lucis aeternae et speculum sine macula Dei maiestatis et imago bonitatis illius

Greek Appendix

Romans 1:18-23
18 αποκαλυπτεται γαρ οργη θεου απ ουρανου επι πασαν ασεβειαν και αδικιαν ανθρωπων των την αληθειαν εν αδικια κατεχοντων 19διοτι το γνωστον του θεου φανερον εστιν εν αυτοις ο γαρ θεος αυτοις εφανερωσεν 20τα γαρ αορατα αυτου απο κτισεως κοσμου τοις ποιημασιν νοουμενα καθοραται η τε αιδιος αυτου δυναμις και θειοτης εις το ειναι αυτους αναπολογητους 21διοτι γνοντες τον θεον ουχ ως θεον εδοξασαν η ευχαριστησαν αλλ εματαιωθησαν εν τοις διαλογισμοις αυτων και εσκοτισθη η ασυνετος αυτων καρδια 22φασκοντες ειναι σοφοι εμωρανθησαν 23και ηλλαξαν την δοξαν του αφθαρτου θεου εν ομοιωματι εικονος φθαρτου ανθρωπου και πετεινων και τετραποδων και ερπετων

Wisdom 13:1-9
1Μάταιοι μὲν γὰρ πάντες ἄνθρωποι φύσει, οἷς παρῆν θεοῦ ἀγνωσία καὶ ἐκ τῶν ὁρωμένων ἀγαθῶν οὐκ ἴσχυσαν εἰδέναι τὸν ὄντα οὔτε τοῖς ἔργοις προσέχοντες ἐπέγνωσαν τὸν τεχνίτην, 2ἀλλ᾿ ἢ πῦρ ἢ πνεῦμα ἢ ταχινὸν ἀέρα ἢ κύκλον ἄστρων ἢ βίαιον ὕδωρ ἢ φωστῆρας οὐρανοῦ πρυτάνεις κόσμου θεοὺς ἐνόμισαν. 3ὧν εἰ μὲν τῇ καλλονῇ τερπόμενοι ταῦτα θεοὺς ὑπελάμβανον, γνώτωσαν πόσῳ τούτων ὁ δεσπότης ἐστὶ βελτίων, ὁ γὰρ τοῦ κάλλους γενεσιάρχης ἔκτισεν αὐτά· 4εἰ δὲ δύναμιν καὶ ἐνέργειαν ἐκπλαγέντες, νοησάτωσαν ἀπ᾿ αὐτῶν πόσῳ ὁ κατασκευάσας αὐτὰ δυνα τώτερός ἐστιν· 5ἐκ γὰρ μεγέθους καὶ καλλονῆς κτισμάτων ἀναλόγως ὁ γενεσιουργὸς αὐτῶν θεωρεῖται. 6ἀλλ᾿ ὅμως ἐπὶ τούτοις μέμψις ἐστὶν ὀλίγη, καὶ γὰρ αὐτοὶ τάχα πλανῶνται θεὸν ζητοῦντες καὶ θέλοντες εὑρεῖν· 7ἐν γὰρ τοῖς ἔργοις αὐτοῦ ἀναστρεφόμενοι διερευνῶσιν καὶ πείθονται τῇ ὄψει, ὅτι καλὰ τὰ βλεπόμενα. 8πάλιν δ᾿ οὐδ᾿ αὐτοὶ συγγνωστοί· 9εἰ γὰρ τοσοῦτον ἴσχυσαν εἰδέναι ἵνα δύνωνται στοχάσασθαι τὸν αἰῶνα, τὸν τούτων δεσπότην πῶς τάχιον οὐχ εὗρον;

Hebrews 1:1-4
1πολυμερως και πολυτροπως παλαι ο θεος λαλησας τοις πατρασιν εν τοις προφηταις επ εσχατων των ημερων τουτων ελαλησεν ημιν εν υιω 2ον εθηκεν κληρονομον παντων δι ου και τους αιωνας εποιησεν 3ος ων απαυγασμα της δοξης και χαρακτηρ της υποστασεως αυτου φερων τε τα παντα τω ρηματι της δυναμεως αυτου δι εαυτου καθαρισμον ποιησαμενος των αμαρτιων ημων εκαθισεν εν δεξια της μεγαλωσυνης εν υψηλοις 4τοσουτω κρειττων γενομενος των αγγελων οσω διαφορωτερον παρ αυτους κεκληρονομηκεν ονομα

Wisdom 7:26 ἀπαύγασμα γάρ ἐστιν φωτὸς ἀιδίου καὶ ἔσοπτρον ἀκηλίδωτον τῆς τοῦ θεοῦ ἐνεργείας καὶ εἰκὼν τῆς ἀγαθότητος αὐτοῦ.

Rocks Ahead!

June 16, 2008

Those of us who live inland are sometimes blissful unaware of the dangers of coastal navigation in boats. In old times, it would be routine for some sailors to make their living guiding out-of-town boats through the waters even of a harbor out to the ocean, assisting them in avoiding submerged rocks, and sandy shoals that could sink a ship, or cause it to become stuck. When such a pilot was not available, those operating the ship would have to keep their eyes peeled for clues as to the dangers at hand, and proceed cautiously. Thus, “Rocks Ahead” would be a call of alarm, much like the call “Iceberg Dead Ahead” became a chilling warning of impending doom in the cinematic portrayal of the Titanic’s demise.

So to, I’d like to try to help a bit in this regard. There are a few rocks that I’ve noticed, that I’d like to draw to your attention – rocks that are especially dangerous to young or new Christians, rocks that are especially dangerous to developing Christians, and rocks that are dangerous to mature Christians.

I. New Christians – Zeal and Love without Knowledge

Many who come to faith in Christ, whether young or old, come with great zeal and love of God. Usually, however, they have a rather minimal understanding of theology and the Bible. They are eager to serve God who they love, but they don’t always know how. This can pose a danger because their lack of knowledge can lead to gullibility or to misdirected zeal.

The solution, the way to avoid these rocks, is to study Scripture. Learn what God has to say in the Word. That is not to say that one must only study Scripture unassisted by human aids. When one uses human aids, even the aids of excellent commentators like Matthew Poole, Matthew Henry, or John Gill, one needs to be cautious carefully comparing what the commentator said to the Word of God, remembering that the commentator is a man, and that men sometimes make mistakes: even Godly men.

II. Developing Christians – Inadequate Methodology

Christians who have started studying sometimes seem to forget the rock summarized by the adage: “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.” These are Christians who have found some useful tool or other for studying Scripture, have been delighted by the influx of knowledge they have gleaned from it, and have overlooked their own lack of experience in using it or (perhaps) lack of gifts in applying it.

The most frequent example of this sort of behavior that I have seen is the misuse of lexicons. These days one can find on-line dictionaries and, for Greek, parsing software, that can enable a person with very little training or actual linguistic or even grammatical skill to unearth some of the nuances of the Bible.

This sort of thing can have its place, certainly. Strong’s lexicon and concordance are an invaluable (that means “of enormous value”) resource. It is helpful to be able to learn sometimes that the Greek word for “suffer” in the verse “suffer the little children to come” means to permit, not to torture. Another example, is to look up the Greek word underlying “whosoever” in John 3:16 to discover that the Greek word means “all.”

A lexicon, though, has to be used carefully. Languages, especially ancient languages, are full of traps for the unwary. One typical example of such a trap is the use of paraphrastic constructions: ways of saying something in a roundabout or indirect manner. We sometimes do this in English, though much more rarely. For example, one might consider the expression “I am going to sell my house,” to be an example of an English paraphrastic way of saying, “I will sell my house.” Someone who did not know English, and who only had a lexicon and/or some parsing software might conclude, by looking up each word individually, that the person was trying to say that he was presently (“am”) moving (“going”) to a closing on the sale of a house. In fact, the person simply means that he will sell his house, and “am going to sell” is a round-about way to express that.

Another example of this sort of error can be found in the use of “word studies.” I have met many Christians who seem to live and die by word studies. Typically, these people will do the word studies in English in some English version (such as the KJV), but a few will do the same in Greek. Again, these studies can have value. For example, one might want to know the semantic range of a particular Biblical word, such as “Lord.” A word study is a way to discover (in English) that the word “Lord” is used of a variety of different referents, and not only about our Lord God.

On the other hand, these word studies can (especially when performed only in English) be misleading and dangerous. For example, while it may be helpful to find out that some particular word is used 99% of the time in the context of judgment, that statistical analysis (at best) provides a default position for understanding the term in the context you are considering. Assuming that the Bible always uses words the same way is a sure way to lead to absurd results. Consider, for example, the problem with assuming that the words in “For God so loved the world,” and “If any man love the world,” are supposed to have precisely the same meaning.

Finally, a third example combines the last two techniques, in a way. In the third example, the person uses Strong’s number for the word (translated “X” in English) in question in verse A and finds out that the same word has been translated with meaning “Y” in one or several other verses. The person then concludes that since the word can mean “Y” in those other verses, it can mean “Y” in verse A. This sort of analysis overlooks the complexity of translation, and the importance of understanding a word’s semantic range as limited by the context in which the word is used. What one has to be especially cautious of, is finding a word in a verse that does not fit one’s theology, running to a lexicon, and finding a definition within the general semantic range of that word that does fit one’s theology, and then insisting that the word has been either poorly translated or mistranslated by others (especially when this means claiming that the verse has been wrongly translated by virtually all the previous translators).

The solution for each of these errors is to be cautious and cognizant of one’s own academic, linguistic, and grammatical abilities. Don’t assume that Strong’s Concordance makes you a Greek scholar, and be cautious about standing opposed to Greek scholars when it comes to translating Greek (or Hebrew for that matter, though fewer people seem to get hooked on trying to re-translate the Hebrew). If your translation of a verse doesn’t jive with either the traditional translation (KJV or the like) or the newer translations (ESV or NASB), consider whether perhaps you may have made a mistake, and try to learn why the other translators translated it the way they did. They may know something you do not. In fact, they may know plenty that you do not.

III. Mature Christians – Pride

Knowledge truly can puff up. It’s easy for mature Christians, having studied the Bible extensively, having learned theology in many nuances to become proud and think that have arrived at a full understanding or a methodology that does not need external correction. This is sometimes seen in the “Not Invented Here” (NIH) syndrome. NIH rejects ideas that one did not think of oneself. If someone tries to provide new light on an issue, a person suffering from NIH simply rejects it out of hand, “I never heard of that.”

This kind of stubbornness can be helpful in keeping the mature Christian from being buffeted by every wind of doctrine. On the other hand, this can stop the growth of the mature Christian. It is always important for the mature Christian to be ready to go back and reconsider his views in light of Scripture. That does not mean we hold views that have been demonstrated from Scripture without tenacity. Instead, it means that we are careful to remember that we two are merely men, and in need of the sharpening iron of our fellow Christians.

This kind of stubbornness can also lead to another problem: disrespect for God-given spiritual authorities. That is to say, Christian men can (aware of their own well-developed knowledge) become scornful of the elders that God has given them for their spiritual edification. It’s fairly common knowledge that in many households one of the main items at Sunday lunch is Roast Sermon, in which problems (real or perceived) in the sermon are dissected and amplified as though under a microscope. That is not to say that there is not a place for sermon criticism, simply that it is easy for people to forget that their elders have an important and God-ordained rule in providing teaching and spiritual rule. We can disagree Scripturally with them, but we must not allow ourselves to become disdainful of their gifts, while pretending to be under their leadership.

This problem extends beyond the man-elder relationship to the wife-husband relation and the child-parent relationship. While children normally would fall into one of the two previous categories, should a child by God’s grace develop a mature understanding of Scripture while still a child, he must still remember the place and purpose not only of his elders, but of his parents as well. Likewise, wives need to remember that their primary human authority in spiritual matters is their husband. This can be especially difficult for wives who are more well read in theological matters than their husbands. The solution there is partly for the wives to learn humility, but also for the husbands to study harder: study the Word so that your wife will not have to ask for your help, but will be eager to ask for your help when it comes to understanding what was preached in church, or what is taught in Scripture.

With these cautions, let us do our best to navigate (with the help of our brethren and that Pilot of our souls, the Holy Spirit) the sometimes rocky harbor of this life, until we reach at last the open sea of heaven, a sea where there will be no icebergs – but we will have the Light of the Lamb to guide and teach us.

Praise be to the Lord!


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