Saturday, July 02, 2011

Luther and the Bible in the Common Tongue

One of the things that was important to the Reformers (as it was to the early church) was that the Word of God be available to people in a language they could understand. This is famously seen in the translational works of Wycliffe and Tyndale, but also in the work of Luther:

Luther began his translation of the New Testament during his enforced exile at the Wartburg, and his work of translating and revising came to occupy him until the end of his life. Amazing as it seems, he apparently completed the first draft of his translation of the New Testament in some eleven weeks, using as his working tools the Greek and Latin editions of Erasmus. Not only did Luther prepare a superb translation, a version that seemed fresh and alive because, as one scholar has phrased it, "he read Holy Writ 'as though it had been written yesterday.'"[FN54] but also, in the process of translation, he helped to sculpt the German language. The development of Neuhochdeutsch, early modern high German, was underway before the appearance of Luther's Bible, due partly to the influence of Saxon Kanzeleideutsch or chancellory German. [FN55] Luther's Bible brought new high German into the parish schools and pulpits and made it the common language for the German people, even though the common folk long clung to their individual dialects. In brief, the language of Luther's Bible "became the language of the people, the langugage used in the studies of the scholars, and the language spoken in the huts of the unlearned."[FN56]
Marilyn J. Harran, Luther and learning: the Wittenberg University Luther Symposium, p. 40.

For several hundred years after the height of Middle High German literature, there was no longer any standard literary language. By far the most important influence on the development of the Modern High German standard language was Martin Luther's translation of the Bible, the first edition of which appeared in 1522 (Old Testament) and 1534 (New Testament). Luther's translation was the first to be written in a direct and uncomplicated - at times even colloquial - style that strove not only to include expressions that were modern and up-and-coming, but also to incorporate linguistic features from as many regions as possible. Its impact on literary German was immense; its core was Luther's native dialect of Thuringian.
Benjamin W. Fortson, Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction, 15.78 (p. 367)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dionysius of Alexandria Resolves a Schism

In leafing through St. Dionysius of Alexandria, Letters and Treatises, I came across this interesting fragment of Dionysius' "On the Promises," preserved in Eusebius' Church History. Dionysius (d. 265) wrote:
So being in the district of Arsenoe, where, as you know, this teaching prevailed long before, so that both schisms and the defection of whole churches have occurred, I called together the presbyters and teachers among the brethren in the villages, such of the brethren as wished being also present, and invited them publicly to make an examination of the matter. And when some brought forward against me this book as an impregnable weapon and bulwark, I sat with them three days in succession from dawn till evening and tried to correct the statements made. During which time I was much struck with the steadiness, the desire for truth, the aptness in following an argument and the intelligence displayed by the brethren, whilst we put our questions and difficulties and points of agreement in an orderly and reasonable manner, avoiding the mistake of holding jealously at any cost to what we had once thought, even though it should now be shown to be wrong, and yet not suppressing what we had to say on the other side, but, as far as possible, attempting to grapple with and master the propositions in hand without being ashamed to change one’s opinion and yield assent if the argument convinced us; conscientiously and unfeignedly, with hearts spread open before God, accepting what was established by the exposition and teaching of the holy Scriptures.

At last the champion and mouthpiece of this doctrine, the man called Coracion, in the hearing of all the brethren that were present agreed and testified to us that he would no longer adhere to it nor discourse upon it nor yet mention nor teach it, on the ground that he had been convinced by what had been said against it. And of the rest of the brethren some rejoiced at the conference and the reconciliation and harmonious arrangement which was brought about by it between all parties.
I found this interesting mostly because of the contrast between Scripture and tradition that Dionysius praises.

Now, admittedly, he has more reverence for tradition than some "Protestants" would:
I have learnt this also, that the brethren in Africa did not introduce this practice (of re-baptism) now for the first time, but it was also adopted some time ago among our predecessors as Bishops, in the most populous churches and well-attended synods of the brethren, viz. in Iconium and Synnada, and I cannot bring myself to reverse their decisions and involve them in strife and controversy. For “thou shalt not remove,” it says, “thy neighbour’s boundaries, which thy fathers set.”
But even that sentiment is a far cry from anything like elevating tradition to the level of Scripture. It's just a willingness not to create needless controversy.


A. A. Hodge on Natural Revelation

What is the distinction between natural and revealed theology?

Natural theology is that science which proposes to itself the solution of these two great questions, 1st, Does God exist? and 2d, What may be legitimately ascertained concerning the true nature of God in himself, and concerning his relations to man, from the principles of human reason and conscience, or from the evidences of God's works, either in creation or providence. A distinction here must be carefully observed between that knowledge of God to which the human reason was able to attain by means of its own unassisted powers independently of revelation, e.g., the theology of Plato aud Cicero, and that knowledge of God which the human mind is now competent to deduco from the phenomena of nature under the clear light of a supernatural revelation, e.g., the theology of the modern rationalistic philosophers. Natural theology, as reached by unassisted reason, was fragmentary, inconsistent and uncertain. Natural theology, as appropriated and vindicated by reason under the clear light of revelation, is itself a strong witness to the truth and supernatural origin of that revelation.

Revealed theology, on the other hand, is that science which treats systematically, 1st, of the evidences authenticating the Christian revelation as from God; 2d, of the interpretation of the records which transmit that revelation to us; and 3d, of all the information furnished by those records of God and his relation to man, and of man and his relation to God.
A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, Chapter 2, Question 3, p. 38. (Cf. Bavinck)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sometimes One Just Shakes One's Head

Such as when one reads from Darryl Hart that "Maybe Mark Driscoll should turn Seattle into the Jerusalem of the Pacific Rim before setting up shop in Portland ... ." What is he thinking?

I certainly don't agree with Driscoll on everything (in fact, I almost certainly disagree more with him than with Hart in general), but Portland could use more godly churches - they could use more of the gospel. I assume this is some kind of joke to Hart, but the gospel shouldn't be a joke.

If Portland was known as a place where no one tells his neighbor or brother, "Know the Lord," for they all know him, then there would be a reason not to plant a new church there. But that doesn't describe Portland, much though I wish it did.

Likewise, it is true that Seattle still can use more gospel preachers. Hart's absolutely right that people don't hear "Seattle" and think "gospel" like they do when they hear about the so-called "Bible Belt." Nevertheless, there is a pressing need for more evangelization in Portland, and if Driscoll's church is going to provide that, wonderful!


Justification by Faith Alone - An Affirmative Constructive

The topic of today's debate is Justification by Faith Alone. Martin Luther viewed this as one of the most critical doctrines of the Reformation - and that was even before Trent! Now that Trent has made Rome irreformable on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, it is impossible for Reformed and Roman churches to have communion.

However, we both claim that the Bible is authoritative, so let's see what it tells us about Justification.

I. Justification is a Link in the Chain of Salvation
Romans 8:30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

This verse teaches us that Justification isn't the whole of salvation, just an important link in the chain between predestination and calling (on one side) and glorification (on the other side).

II. Justified by Christ's Blood
Romans 5:9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.

The proper (and by proper, I mean formal) thing that justifies is the blood of Christ. It is His death that justifies us and assures us of salvation.

III. Not Justified by Doing the Law
Romans 2:12-13
For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

Romans 3:20 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.

These verses show us what doesn't justify us. What doesn't justify us is obeying the law. We can't be righteous in the sight of God by obeying God's law. So how then can we be justified in God's eyes?

IV. Justification by Grace
Titus 3:7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

We are justified by grace. Of course, someone might say that grace can be complimentary to the law. In other words, you can be justified by grace and by the law. Thus, the comments about the law above would mean that we are not justified by the law alone, but by the law plus something else. So we can turn to the following:

V. Grace not Law
Galatians 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

The answer to the question is a resounding "no." It's an either/or situation, not a both/and situation. You cannot seek to be justified by both. It's either grace alone, or nothing.

We can see that again in:

VI. Justified by Christ not Personal Merit
Galatians 2:17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.

This one takes the opposite approach. It is asking whether you need both: do you need to be justified by Christ and by personal righteousness? The answer Paul gives is "no." Now, how can you be justified by Christ by Grace?

The solution is:

VII. Justification by Faith
Romans 5:1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

Romans 3:30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.

Galatians 3:8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.

Each of these passages teaches us that justification is by or more properly (i.e. more precisely) through faith. In other words, faith is an instrumental means whereby we are justified.

And just so you can be sure that we are talking about the same kind of justification, we can see this confirmed:

VIII. Justification by Christ linked to faith
Acts 13:39 And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

Notice that it is by Christ that those who believe are justified. They are justified from all things, from which the law couldn't justify them. So, notice that the law / grace distinction is also a law / Christ distinction.

Justification is a declaration of righteousness, whereas the law produces a judgment of guilt. We can see that in an indirect way by looking at what the result of faith is - it is righteousness:

IX. The Righteousness that is By Faith
Hebrews 11:4-5
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

Galatians 5:5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

Romans 3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

Romans 1:17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

Notice that "obtained witness that he is righteous" and "God testifying of his gifts." Moreover, notice how Noah is an "heir of the righteousness" which is by faith. Likewise, in the two passages in Romans, it is the "righteousness of God."

But perhaps you might think that this righteousness is simply God enabling us to obey the law:

X. The Righteousness that is by Faith is not that which is of the law
Philippians 3:9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Notice that Paul explicitly distinguishes the righteousness that is by faith, and personal righteousness, which Paul calls "mine own righteousness."

Does the law have a place in connection with justification?

XI. The Law Points us to Christ, but Faith Justifies
Galatians 3:24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

Notice that the law of God is not completely cut out of the picture. It points to our own insufficiency, and consequently pushes us toward faith.


XII. Justification is by Faith, not Law
Galatians 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Galatians 3:11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

Romans 3:27-28
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Romans 9:31-32
But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

Romans 4:5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

This should not come as a big surprise. In view of the Christ / law distinction and the grace / law distinction, the faith / law distinction should be almost common sense.

Indeed, grace and faith are linked:

XIII. Saved by Grace, through Faith
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

2 Timothy 3:15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 1:5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Galatians 5:4-5
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

Romans 4:16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,

Romans 5:2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

Notice that it is God's grace and power that saves, but through faith. The point is that it is not of ourselves. This also, somewhat indirectly, rules out personal merit. If we were justified in part by personal merit it might be God's grace and power but also of ourselves. The Scriptures explicitly exclude such an interpretation.

Yet there is a faith / works connection:

XIV. Faith leads us to Work Righteousness
Hebrews 11:33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,

Hebrews 11:39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:

James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Works are a fruit of faith. They aren't what justify us in God's sight, but they can show evidence to another man of our faith.

In other words, there can be another kind of justification:

XV. Justification - another Kind
Luke 16:15 And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.

Luke 10:29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

James 2:24-26
Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

This kind of justification is justification in the eyes of men. In other words, will men condemn or praise us? Men praise Rahab because she acted.

But do the Scriptures contrast these two kinds of justification?

XVI. Contrast between two kinds of justification
1 Corinthians 4:3-4
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

Romans 4:2-5 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

Notice how Paul distinguishes between the two kinds of justification, and how a comparison of James and Paul show us that they are talking about two different things. Some people seem to try to pit Paul against James and to claim that while Paul says Abraham is not justified by works, but by faith, James says the opposite. The better understanding is that James is talking about how we see faith, not about what justifies us in God's eyes. Works never justify us in God's eyes.

I should point out that it is not farfetched to think that "justified" can refer to something else besides the formal justification of man in God's eyes. The Scriptures provide at least two other examples:

XVII. God Justified
Romans 3:4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.

Luke 7:29 And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.


XVIII. Wisdom Justified
Luke 7:35 But wisdom is justified of all her children.

Neither wisdom nor God is justified in the way that sinners are justified in God's sight, but nevertheless the same word is used, because it relates to passing a favorable judgment.

That leads us to a simple definition of justification:

XIX. What is Justification? It is the Opposite of Guilt and Condemnation
Matthew 12:37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

Romans 8:33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.

And this is where we can sum up our positive Biblical presentation on Justification by Faith Alone. We have shown that the Scriptures teach this important doctrine, therefore, we ought to believe it.


P.S. The above is the affirmative constructive speech for a debate that was originally scheduled for today. Perhaps I'll use it when the debate actually happens, or perhaps not. In any event, I welcome any comments on the arguments or criticism of the arguments, from anyone interested.