Saturday à Machen: The Heart of the Gospel

J. Gresham Machen“The Christian Church, then, is founded upon the resurrection of Christ from the dead. If the resurrection be denied, then the origin of the Church becomes an insoluble problem. The Church itself is a witness to the resurrection. Not merely isolated passages, but the whole of the New Testament, bears testimony. [. . .]

“If Jesus was raised from the dead, then his lofty claims are established. If the resurrection is a fact, then Jesus of Nazareth was no mere manbut God and man, God come in the flesh.

“The Church is founded not upon the memory of a dead teacher, but upon the presence of a living Lord. The message, ‘He is risen’that is the very heart of the gospel.”

(J. Gresham Machen, The New Testament: An Introduction to its Literature and History [Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1990], pages 58-59.)

The EOB and the Ecclesiastical Text of the New Testament

Frequent readers of this blog will know that, ever since I learned of the project a couple of years ago, I have followed with keen interest the developments surrounding the upcoming publication of the Greek / Eastern Orthodox Bible (EOB), edited by Fr Laurent Cleenewerck. Although the project website does not appear to have been updated in quite some time, interested parties should note that the final edition of the New Testament seems to have been released last year as scheduled, and is available for download and purchase. The EOB Old Testament still awaits completion.

Of course, the chief selling point of the EOB NT is that it professes to be a translation of the Patriarchal Text of the New Testament, which is thus far the only authoritative edition of the Ecclesiastical Text of the New Testament as used in the Orthodox Church. There are various ways of testing this claim: for instance, one could look at such texts as St Matthew 19:9 or St Mark 9:29 and check whether they conform to the Critical Text or to the Ecclesiastical Text. One may safely assume, however, that any translation that seeks to represent the so-called “Byzantine texttype” will not neglect the places where the Ecclesiastical Text and the Critical Text at more obviously at variance. A better test, I believe, would be to check the translation at places where the differences are subtler.

One such place is Romans 12:1-2, which reads as follows in the Patriarchal New Testament:

Παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, διὰ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν τοῦ Θεοῦ, παραστῆσαι τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν θυσίαν ζῶσαν, ἁγίαν, εὐάρεστον τῷ Θεῷ, τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν, καὶ μὴ συσχηματίζεσθαι τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ, ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθαι τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοὸς ὑμῶν, εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ Θεοῦ, τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον.

The Critical Text is virtually identical to the Ecclesiastical Text here, except for three small differences in verse 2: for the more polished infinitives συσχηματίζεσθαι and μεταμορφοῦσθαι, it has the rougher imperatives συσχηματίζεσθε and μεταμορφοῦσθε (a variant obviously arising from “faulty hearing,” to borrow Metzger’s charming description), and there is no ὑμῶν modifying νοὸς. Interestingly, the Textus Receptus (which lies behind the King James and New King James Versions) agrees with the Critical Text in the first two instances, and with the Ecclesiastical Text on the third.

The EOB NT has the following:

Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your rational offering of divine service. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.

So it turns out that the EOB reflects here the reading, not of the Ecclesiastical Text, but of the Textus Receptus! A translation of the former perhaps would have run more or less as follows:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your rational offering of divine service; and to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Further, there is no footnote documenting the textual variant at this point. It is true that the EOB only promises to note significant variants; but this admittedly minor textual variation represents a distinctive reading of the Ecclesiastical Text that was for whatever reason not reflected in the text of the EOB, and it ought to have been at least footnoted.

Fortunately, while the EOB might have failed this particular test, it remains on the whole a successful (if at points peculiar) translation of the Church’s Textand given the nature of the project, one can trust that as minor blemishes such as the one here discussed continue to surface, the translation will only continue to be improved.

Coming Soon: A Study Edition of the ESV Apocrypha

As many of you know, soon after the publication of the English Standard Version in 2001, lively interest arose in various quarters of its target constituencies for an edition of this translation that would include the so-called Old Testament Apocrypha (more commonly known as the Deuterocanonicals among Roman Catholics, and as the Anaginoskomena among the Orthodox). For quite some time the publishers were at the very least hesitant to entertain this possibility. Demand for such an edition must have been great, however, since in the end they worked out a compromise that allowed the Oxford University Press to commission and publish under their own imprint an edition of the ESV with the Apocrypha. This, in turn allowed Crossway to disassociate themselves from the publication of that particular edition, as the following statement from the FAQs section of the ESV website shows:

Crossway will not be publishing the ESV in editions with the Apocrypha. An edition of the ESV with the Apocrypha is being developed by Oxford University Press and is expected to be available in early 2009.

(It should be noted, of course, that this strict Evangelical opposition to publishing Bibles that reflect the larger canons of other Christian traditions is not unique to Crossway; it also stands behind the unyielding decision of Biblica not to allow the publication of an NIV/TNIV Apocrypha. As I have mentioned before, among Evangelical publishers, Tyndale was perhaps the first to show the initiative to produce an edition of the deuterocanonical books of the Roman Catholic canon as part of the NLT Catholic Edition. I am happy to report that, since then, Baker has also published a one-volume edition of these same books as part of GOD’S WORD Translation.)

While OUP’s promotional materials for this edition coldly state that this would be “the only ESV with Apocrypha available anywhere,” it appears that this will not be the case after all. I have recently learned that Concordia Publishing House is hard at work on a study edition of the ESV Apocrypha that will serve as a companion volume to the recently published Lutheran Study Bible. A short description of the project by its editor, Rev. Edward Engelbrecht, may be read here. Surprisingly, this edition will print the text of all of the books of the Anaginoskomena, though it will provide introductions and notes only for those books included by Luther in his German translation of the Bible. The projected publication date is 2012.

While there are a number of study editions of the full Anaginoskomena now available, most of these are critical scholarly editions which, for that very reason, do not seek to relate the contents of these books to the life of any faith community. (As a matter of fact, it seems as though, for all of its many faults, the Orthodox Study Bible features the only annotated edition of these books that programmatically attempts to do this. [UPDATE: It is not: I overlooked the Life with God Bible, which also features faith-oriented annotations to the entire Anaginoskomena.]) Of course, one of the distinctive features of the Lutheran Study Bible is precisely that it seeks to read the Scriptures both confessionally and ecclesiastically, and it will doubtless be fascinating to see how these twin commitments are brought to bear on what by classical Lutheran standards are edifying and even sacred textsalbeit not canonical.

Sundays with Silva: On Academic Responsibility

In a recent post, I pointed to academic responsibility as the higher path that believing scholars should relentlessly pursue as they go about their work. I realize, however, that this may be a little too abstract a notion, and that even those who may wish to follow the summons might be left wondering precisely what this entails. Fortunately for us all, our Infallible Hero has written a number of articles that address in some detail the challenges of conducting one’s intellectual work at the juncture of faith and criticism, so I have decided to quote at length from one of them below.

In his conclusion to a masterful analysis of Ned B. Stonehouse’s brilliant (and even daring) interaction with critical scholarship as a confessional biblical scholar, Silva suggests:

“[W]e should recall Stonehouse’s appreciation for careful scholarship, whether arising from evangelical circles or not. Stonehouse himself, no doubt, was strongly influenced by his teacher, J. Gresham Machen, in this regard. The tendency to play down the significance of contemporary critical theories, and the apparently related habit of too swift a use of modern scholarship when it supports a conservative positionthese are qualities that we must eschew once and for all”1.

Twenty years later, Silva returned to these short yet tightly packed lines in his Presidential Address before the Evangelical Theological Society, marvelously entitled “‘Can Two Walk Together Unless They Be Agreed?’ Evangelical Theology and Biblical Scholarship” (the full text of which is available both in an invaluable anthology of ETS Presidential Addresses and in PDF format from the JETS website). In this address, Silva seeks to engage James Barr’s “valid insights” into the problems of Evangelical scholarship in his well known book Fundamentalismthough not, of course, without frankly discussing the many regrettable deficiencies of  Barr’s overall argument. It is at this point that we catch up with Silva, as he raises the often uncomfortable issue of intellectual honesty in confessional biblical scholarship, which speaks directly to our stated concern with academic responsibility:

“We may begin by noticing Barr’s complaint that conservative literature often uses a double standard when assessing the validity of critical views with regard to history:

The fact that historical demonstration is probabilistic and not absolute is constantly exploited by fundamentalists in order to show that critical reconstructions are not certain; on the other hand, . . . the same probabilistic element is exploited . . . in order to achieve at all points the most conservative picture possible. . . . Critical judgments [according to the fundamentalist argument] are at the best hypotheses, which cannot be demonstrated unless the most final and coercive proofs are brought: conservative judgments on the same historical issues are fully reliable knowledge, and cannot be disproved except by the most final and coercive proofs.

“The point is overstated, but if we are not honest enough to recognize that there is considerable truth in this complaint we are not likely to make much progress in articulating a view of Biblical history characterized by intellectual integrity and persuasive power.

“More damagingly, Barr exposes a serious defect in the development of evangelical Biblical scholarshipnamely, the tendency to adopt a critical point of view but to use that approach only when it supports the evangelical agenda. This can happen directly or vicariously. By vicarious I mean the approach of many evangelicals who themselves reject critical methods in principle but who read liberal works looking for arguments that debunk other scholars. Barr justifiably says that this is not fair. How can we claim that a conservative conclusion developed within the framework of so-called higher criticism is valid unless we are willing to say that the framework itself is legitimate and that therefore in principle nonconservative conclusions too may be valid?

“In addition to this secondhand use of criticism, there is the more direct approach of many of us who are actually engaged in critical Biblical scholarship. We explore text-critical problems, analyze linguistic data, pass historical judgments on the literature, and so on; but we tend to avoid dogmatic arguments by focusing on areas that do not conflict with evangelical convictions. Barr points out that

the framework within which such conservative scholarship sets out its position, and the overt principles of demonstration that it uses, lie within a world that is largely shared with critical scholarship. . . . Unlike all scholars who share and actually work with the dogmatic positions of fundamentalism, these conservative scholars share the same universe of discourse with critical scholars and know perfectly well that they do. What they fail to do is to point out the fact, and its lessons, to their fundamentalist readership.

“Barr then remarks that works like the New Bible Dictionary and the New Bible Commentary contain developments that are “quite equivocal in relation to the principles” held so dear by conservative readers. These readers take pride in the fine scholars who defend conservative ideas, but in fact “the deservedly high reputation of some conservative scholarship rests to a large extent on the degree to which it fails to be conservative in the sense that the conservative evangelical public desiderate.”

“We can hardly afford to ignore such criticisms. In fact, the problem may be even more serious than these quotations suggest. Barr suggests that scholars who in one way or another identify themselves as conservative know that they have abandoned distinctive evangelical principles and are simply not very honest about it. That may well be true in some cases. But much more alarming is the evidence that growing numbers of evangelical scholars are blissfully unaware of having adopted approaches or positions that conflict with their religious convictions at a fundamental level.

“In any case, Barr’s criticisms highlight a tensionreflected in the title of this addressthat needs to be faced squarely. I do not concede that this tension is a bad thing in itself or that it indicates a fundamental instability in the work of evangelical scholarship. The fact that we may feel pulled in different directions says nothing about the validity of our position. We may be sure that we will always experience that kind of frustration in this life. The question, however, is whether we are willing to acknowledge the problem, reflect on its implications, and work toward a cogent articulation of our position”2.

_________________________

Notes:

1 Moisés Silva, “Ned B. Stonehouse and Redaction Criticism,” WTJ 40 (1977–78):302.

2 Moisés Silva, “‘Can Two Walk Together Unless the Be Agreed? Evangelical Theology and Biblical Scholarship,” JETS 41/1, pages 7-9.

The Perfect Church Sign

I must admit, my gentle snowflakes, that I have never understood the amusement usually generated by trite church signage. For me, each and every encounter with these  one-liners of doom is a profoundly distressing experience, since behind every saccharine and/or heretical utterance stands a confused soul utterly convinced that cranking out weekly maxims for the edification of ongoing traffic is their own pivotal contribution to the eschatological fulfillment of God’s Kingdom. (As an aside, I should like to note that the quality of the content of the average church sign is a direct result of the quality of the theology dispensed at the average Sunday School, which, as the late Charles Merill Smith observed, “ranges from fundamentalist pietism to salvation by thinking gorgeous thoughts, with both extremes frequently included in the same lesson by the same teacher, with no one bothered in the least by the inconsistencies”1.)

Surely you will understand my chagrin, then, when I spotted a church roughly a half mile from the interstate exit that I would usually take on my way to work whose transgressions in this regard are beyond number. (Their most recent offering: “Smile. It increases your face value.”) Since I have often come perilously close to crashing into oncoming traffic upon seeing each new weekly message, it is doubtless in the interest of my personal safety that I have found a new, more pleasant route to work that also mercifully avoids the offending sign. As is my wont, however, I have thought long and hard about what sort of message I would like to convey to the masses were I in charge of such a sign. Needless to say, vapid platitudes would be right out; but then so much of what one can say in a single declarative sentence is necessarily vapid. How to convey in a single short sentence the greatness and awesome holiness of God, the terrible foulness of sin, the ineffable saving, cleansing, and transforming power of God, his glorious rule and ultimate victory over sin and death? And then it hit me: it’s right there in the Bible. Thus I’ve come to the conclusion that I would probably echo the author of Hebrews2 in saying:

OUR GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE.

And if I were in charge of such things, my friends, that sign would stay up until Kingdom come.

Notes:

1 In How to Become a Bishop without Being Religious (Garden City: Doubleday, 1965), page 95. I can say without danger of exaggeration that this is the best book ever written.

2 Cf. Hebrews 12:29, which in turn is quoting Deuteronomy 4:24.

Academic Respectability vs. Academic Responsibility

In recent weeks, I’ve had the pleasure to revisit D. A. Carson and J. D. Woodbridge’s interesting little book, Letters Along the Way: A Novel of the Christian Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 1993). The book contains the correspondence between fictional TEDS professor Paul Woodson and equally fictional former student Timothy Journeyman. The letters are a sort of running commentary on Evangelical life and thought over a decade and a half or so, reflecting the  distinguished authors’ keen insights on all manner of events and issues. Of course, not even Evangelicals may be expected to agree with all of the views reflected in the book; the divide grows wider when the reader has different confessional commitments. Still, the book is engaging and even stimulating, and I recommend it to all interested readers without hesitation.

In light of my recent post on a related subject, I wish to share with you a few lines from a letter dated August 1, 1984, whose chief subject is academic respectabilitya holy grail seemingly ever out of the reach of believing scholars, and consequently one of their more greatly desired panaceas. Carson and Woodbridge write:

“At the risk of sounding pedantic (though realizing I sometimes come across that way), I doubt very much that evangelicals are wise to pursue academic respectability. What we need is academic responsibility. There is a world of difference.

“Elevating academic respectability to the level of controlling desideratum is an invitation to theological and spiritual compromise. I do not find Jesus angling to become a member of the Sanhedrin in order to gain a more public voice; I do not find Paul pursuing academic respectability in the categories of his day, for then he could not have written the kinds of things he did about rhetoric (e.g., 1 Corinthians 2:1ff.). Academic responsibility is something else. This means that we pursue integrity in debate, that we eschew harangues, that we seek to give an answer to everyone for the hope that is in us, that we persuade people with the truth. Academic respectability, in my vocabulary, has too much self-interest in it for me to trust it; academic responsibility, on the other hand, calls me to discipline and work” (page 174).

And:

“If God were to call you to a life of scholarship, then pursue academic responsibility with your whole heartnot as a new god, but as an offering to God. It may well then be that your work will influence your times and make a difference in the intellectual climate. At very least you will then serve the interests of some younger scholars coming along behind, who will model themselves after you and learn the way of discipleship as scholars. Pursue academic responsibility, and trust God to work out the details of who hears you and what influence you have. Responsible scholarship has far more potential for discovering and buttressing truth and for winning people’s minds than mere respectability anyway. If instead you take the lower road and pursue mere academic respectability, you may gain more plaudits from the world, but it is far more doubtful that you will have the approbation of Heaven. Once in a while there have been scholars who have gained both; it is doubtful if they have ever done so by pursuing respectability” (page 176).

Over the years I have met a number of budding young scholars, many of them exceptionally gifted, who have all been quite anxious to earn the respect of their guild. But, as Carson and Woodbridge suggest, this is a treacherous path riddled with alluring traps. It often happens that the laudable desire to produce quality work that will genuinely contribute to the advancement of scholarship turns into a wild goose chase to attain mere approval and recognition from others: first teachers, then dissertation advisors and committees, then potential employers and publishers, and so on. The unfortunate thing is that this relentless pursuit of recognition ends up becoming an end in itself, and ultimately distracts these gifted individuals from the scholarly work they had originally set out to accomplish. Surely I am not the only one who has seen brilliant people thus turned into cretinous hacks.

But this is not the only way in which young believing scholars can be effectively derailed by the vain pursuit of academic respectability. It may be that they are quite busy doing their homework, keeping up with all the recent literature and specialized journals, and turning out their finest work. But if their real purpose in doing these things is to earn the approval of their colleagues, they are really only setting themselves up for failure. Consider the tragic example of the late great Evangelical biblical scholar, George Eldon Ladd, whose work on the Kingdom of God has decisively influenced generations of students, myself included. A Harvard Ph.D. and an immensely learned scholar, Ladd’s world was literally shattered by Norman Perrin’s 3-page review of his 1964 book Jesus and Kingdom (later published in a revised edition as The Presence of the Future). His inability to earn the respect of the broader non-Evangelical scholarly guild plunged Ladd into a severe depression from which he never fully recovered. His overwhelming need to prove his academic worth led to broken family relations and a severe problem with alcoholism that undoubtedly contributed to the stroke that put him in a nursing home for the last two years of his life. (The story of George Eldon Ladd, with all of its admirable highs and sorrowful lows, has been told in a recent book by John D’Elia, A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America [New York: Oxford University Press, 2008].) Perhaps Ladd’s example is extreme, but the pathology (both spiritual and psychological) that we see at work in it is the same that operates in the young scholar whose core moving force is the pursuit of academic respectability.

Of course, as Carson and Woodbridge suggest, such a pursuit not only reeks of tedious self-involvement, but is ultimately idolatrous. Certain segments of our faith communities understand this very well, and as a result reject all scholarly pursuits as a temptation to be avoided. While one may understand and even sympathize with their concerns, retreating is not an acceptable response. The real answer to our conundrum is to doggedly set on the higher path of academic honesty and responsibility and never look back. True, eschewing the comfortable back scratching and ego stroking of academic respectability in favor of the relentless pursuit of academic responsibility will probably not earn you the Rylands Professorship of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at Manchester, like it did F. F. Bruce, or two consecutive Sterling Professorships at Yale, like it did Jaroslav PelikanI’m afraid that others have only done it at great personal cost. Still, if it does, well and good; but take care that your ultimate goal is not to earn the approbation of mere humans with a lifespan as restricted as yours, but to earn the approbation of Heaven.

(Those interested in reading the entire letter quoted above will find it in pages 173-8 of Letters Along the Way. Also, note that the entire book is available as a free PDF here.)

A Marvel Wrapped in a Wonder!

Today is the third “blogiversary” of The Voice of Stefan (see my first post here). To celebrate this auspicious day, I have thought it well to share with you, my gentle snowflakes, a marvel visited upon me a few months ago, while I indulged in the crassly mundane activity of eating some potato chips. Here, for your edification, is a picture of the prodigy:

Caution prevents me from pronouncing myself conclusively regarding the meaning of this strange and wondrous occurrence, though (as might be expected) I have some ideas about it. Its purpose, however, seems clear enough: the startling artifact pictured above will be coming soon to an eBay auction near you. I expect the bids to rise sufficiently to allow me to retire to a leisurely life of reading and blogging, since such items are known to be of the utmost interest to ecstatic enthusiasts, mesmerized mystics, fervent fideists, and the credulous alike.

On “Recent” Books and Tendentious Authorial Remarks

A while back our good friend Nick Norelli asked at what point does a book cease to be recent, and his inquiry generated some thoughtful answers (particularly from Steph Fisher and James Spinti). His interesting question came to mind the other day as I thumbed through a brand new book by one L. Michael White, Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite (New York: HarperOne, 2010), at the Religion section of the local Borders. White’s preface begins as follows:

“Jesus is under fire.” So says a recent book by evangelical [sic] apologists in reaction to most, if not all, forms of New Testament scholarship. At stake, they argue, are the grounds of all Christian belief, the “truth” of the Gospel. So it seems that the battle lines are clear and unmistakable: those who believe versus those who don’t. Those who question historical points in the Christian Gospels or propose a different vision of what Jesus said on a particular occasion or meant on a given topic are summarily lumped together in a vast and godless army, the enemies of Christ and Christianity.

There is much to object to in this one short paragraph (more on that below), but I immediately recognized the “recent book” in question to be Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, edited by Michael Wilkins and J. P. Moreland, and published by Zondervan in 1995. Am I alone in wanting to know which criteria, exactly, qualify a 15-year-old book as recent? In February of 1995, when Jesus Under Fire was published, I was still a junior in high school!

But this is the least problematic of White’s baffling comments. For a start, the reader can immediately sense that the designation “Evangelical apologists” is here a blanket term of opprobrium, clearly implying that a commitment to the historical reliability of the Gospels (which is what the “apologists” are defending in this case) necessarily betrays a rabid anti-intellectual streak. Indeed, we are given to understand that only a blind ideological opposition “to most, if not all, forms of New Testament scholarship” can account for the acceptance of such an obscurantist view.

These protestations of fundamentalistic opposition to Biblical scholarship are all the more remarkable when one considers that the first four chapters of Jesus Under Fire were written by four New Testament scholars of considerable gifts and superior training: Craig Blomberg, Scot McKnight, Darrell Bock, and Craig Evans. These scholars have all published widely on Jesus and the Gospels, and it is surely a stretch to suggest that they oppose “most, if not all, forms of New Testament scholarship” simply on account of their Evangelical commitments. I doubt that White would deliberately engage in blatant misrepresentation, so I must conclude that this is a case of judging a book by its cover, without regard to its actual contents.

Now it is clear that Jesus Under Fire was written by Evangelical authors with apologetic aims. It is equally clear, however, that the book’s main target is not some apocalyptic “vast and godless army” of “enemies of Christ and Christianity,” but rather the sensationalistic stunts of the Jesus Seminar. (Readers will recall that, a decade and a half ago, the Jesus Seminar attracted wide media attention by regularly cranking out saucy headlines ready for the newswire.) I happen to believe that the authors succeeded in their aim of providing a cogent, popular-level counterargument to the dubious methodology and exaggerated claims of the Seminar from an Evangelical perspective. But, as has been often noted, it was not Evangelicals alone who found the Seminar’s  pontifications problematic: again, readers will doubtless recall that perhaps the finest rebuttal of their methodology and claims came from the pen of New Testament scholar extraordinaire Luke Timothy Johnson in his 1996 book The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels. And indeed, White himself dedicates the next two paragraphs of his preface to the sensationalism, media hype, and conspiracy theories that he opposes to “real scholarship.”

Of course, White also opposes “real scholarship” to “conservative apologists.” By this he means the same sort of zealously anti-intellectual verbal dictationists of which he speaks in the first paragraph. But had he paid some attention to the contributions of Blomberg, McKnight, Bock, and Evans in Jesus Under Fire, he would have found scholars committed to the historical reliability of the Gospels with concerns not unlike his own. In fact, in his excellent and memorably titled chapter (“The Words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive, or Memorex?”), Bock is at pains to discount the same two extremes that White rejects: that of the Jesus Seminar (which treats the Gospels as “jive”) and that of the dictationists (which treats them as a “memorex” tape). Perhaps they disagree considerably as to the historical reliability of the words and deeds recorded in the Gospels, but both seek to do justice to the literary artistry of Gospel composition by avoiding the very same extremesand therefore, whether White likes it or not, they merely live in different neighborhoods of the of the “live” district.

P.S.: I would be remiss if I failed to point out that the title Scripting Jesus is, to my mind, a thinly veiled marketing gimmick meant to capitalize on Bart Ehrman’s similarly titled (and enormously successful) Misquoting Jesus, also published by HarperOne. Since, as we know, the title of Ehrman’s book was the doing of HarperOne’s marketing department, I think it safe to say that we may lay this bit of chicanery at their feet as well.

Saturday à Machen: Joy in the Fear of God

“Chapters 9-11 of this epistle [to the Romans] are interesting in a great many ways. They are interesting, for example, in their tremendous conception of the mystery of the divine will. The ninth chapter is a good corrective for any carelessness in our attitude towards God. After all, God is a mystery. How little we know of his eternal plan! We must ever tremble before him. Yet it is such a God who has invited us, through Christ, to hold communion with himself. There is the true wonder of the gospelthat it brings us into fellowship, not with a God of our own devising, not with one who is a Father and nothing else, but with the awful, holy, mysterious Maker and Ruler of all things. The joy of the believer is the deepest of all joys. It is a joy that is akin to holy fear.”

(J. Gresham Machen, The New Testament: An Introduction to its Literature and History [Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1990], pages 152-3.)

Δουλεύσατε τῷ Κυρίῳ ἐν φόβῳ καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε αὐτῷ ἐν τρόμῳ.
(Ψαλμός 2:11)

Serve ye the Lord with fear, and rejoice in Him with trembling.
(Psalm 2:11)

On Restraint, Book Purchasing, and the Afflictions of the Righteous

Those of you more intimately acquainted with my meek spirit and mild manners would surely be hard-pressed to believe reports that I have taken up the pen to defend myself from any libellous charges leveled against my person. While I do not wish to offend your delicate sensibilities, I feel it appropriate at this time to write a few lines to contradict, by means of a concrete example, what has proven to be one of the more persistent accusations against my character over the years.

It may come as a shock to you that many people of ill will, whose senses have been dulled to all things good, true, and beautiful, have often gleefully accused me of being a compulsive book buyer. I am truly at a loss to understand how anyone could possibly concoct such an outrageously distorted notion, given that my restraint in the matter of book purchases may only be compared to the heroic self-control ascribed to Æneas throughout Virgil’s epic.

Surely my testimony is so obviously true that no further proof of it is necessary. Yet, given the galling longevity of this heinous accusation, I will condescend to provide irrefutable evidence to the contrary.

A couple of years ago I learned of the publication of Fr James Thornton’s book, The Œcumenical Synods of the Orthodox Church: A Concise History (Etna: CTOS, 2007). Now I have long been aware of Fr James Thornton’s work, which I hold in great esteem; therefore I have no reason to doubt that  this is a fine volume indeed. However, two long years have passed and (in a display of my heroic restraint in these matters) I have not yet purchased the book. While it would doubtless make for a valuable addition to my library, I must admit that, considering that for various reasons I have other, more pressing bibliographical needs, I have no immediate use for it. True, the book retails for a mere $11.95 USD; but does even this remarkably low price justify an immediately unnecessary book purchase? No, of course, it does not. And so it is that the book is still on a list and not yet on my reading table.

Consider now this: just a few days ago, while browsing the CTOS website, I decided to look once again at the sample PDF they offer for Fr James’ book. While scanning the Index of Names (which, I am ashamed to admit, I hadn’t done before), I was delighted to discover that he refers to none other than the infallible Moisés Silva in page 144 of this volume. Needless to say, the book’s already high stock went even higher with me right there and then. I was suddenly seized by the urge to purchase the book immediatelyindeed, I promptly located my wallet, pulled out my card, and stood at the very brink of completing the transaction. But then Reason made her voice heard: “How long,” she asked, “will this fine volume lay around in unmarked piles until you have the time to get to it? Would it not make more sense to purchase it when you are ready to tackle it immediately?” And so, remembering my committment to never make orders from the CTOS that came to less than fifty dollars, I put away my card and wallet.

Naturally, however, the inclusion of our Infallible Hero in the Index of Names has bumped this title considerably in the queue. (Of course, Arius, Libanius, Nestorius, and Dioscorus are all listed in the Index too, but I rather doubt that Silva otherwise shares their lot.) And since the long-awaited publication in one volume of Archbishop Chrysostomos’ Themes in Orthodox Patristic Psychology: Humility, Obedience, Repentance, and Love (a justly celebrated work that is also directly relevant to my current reading) is slated for not many days hence, who knows how long it will be before I place an order.

But let it be known to all nations, kindred, and tongues that at least two years went by before I purchased a book that I have wanted all along. Let that be the final word to those who unjustly accuse me.