Why Biblical Languages Are a Seminary Priority

I was once a young and zealous seminary student. Every class I took was considered through the lense of “How can this help me on the streets.” I experienced the significant dissonance between academic approaches to the Bible, church history, doctrine, apologetics, etc. My initial response was, “Who needs this?”

This knee-jerk response was unhelpful in two ways. First, the mind does need to be trained, even in areas one considers unimportant at the time. Second, if evangelistically-minded students shun higher academia as unnecessary or unimportant, then they will not funnel-up to replenish the ranks of Bible commentators, church historians, and theologians who train up future generations of students.

I once complained to my father about having to take Greek in seminary. He responded to me somewhat sarcastically, “Then why not go to this other school instead!”

At the time, I did not understand the importance of the study of biblical Greek. It did not cross my mind the depth of the Word of God that can never be fully translated into the English language. My feeling at the time was, “We have the Great Commission. What are we waiting for?”

Now, more than 30 years after having received a Master of Divinity, I view things very differently. For example, consider the power and impact of Moses’ polytheistic education in Egypt:

“And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.” Acts 7:22.

Here are some thoughts that may benefit the current seminary student who has an evangelistic heart.

First, keep and nurture an evangelistic heart. Do not let your passion die. Plan into your schedule weekly times of initiative evangelism. A heart for the lost can easily become static or stagnant. Plan weekly opportunities for eye-to-eye contact with lost people for the purpose of sharing the gospel.

Second, do not underestimate the importance and power of a deep knowledge of the biblical languages. Without a knowledge of the biblical text, verses that encourage evangelism or clearly affirm the gospel can be changed without your knowing it. For example, evangelistically important verses are often the first to be altered in Bible translations.

When Jesus sent out His disciples in evangelism, He told them to be careful:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16.

We may too easily be “gentle as doves” without first being “wise as serpents.” In order to remain vigilant for biblical evangelism, depth of education is crucial.

Third, consider that evangelism and evangelists are often framed out of many topics of study. Whether these omissions are purposeful or unintentional, I will let the reader decide. In order to maintain a Great Commission approach in every subject, the student will need to intentionally seek it out and sometimes reinject it into the topic—if it is difficult to ascertain. This last step must be done with humility and gentleness, just as Jesus stated, in one’s own private study of the topic at hand.

As to evangelism and evangelists in church history, in the study of doctrine, and in ecclesiology. The Great Commission is always there—if Christ is truly Lord of His church. The words of Christ have always been obeyed by some in every generation!

Lastly, don’t give up on the Christian higher education that a seminary provides. The topics taught in seminary are crucial and valid. Especially fall in love with the biblical languages and with every word in the Bible. Become a servant of the Word of God—allow the words of the Word to rule over you. If you do that, then everything else will fall into its proper place, including proper obedience to Christ’s Great Commission.

Augustine as an Ecumenical Rendezvous

I have long been intrigued of Augustine’s role as ecumenical rendezvous.

Augustine was widely and prominently cited by both Peter the Lombard in his Four Books of Sentences (A.D. 1155) and by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica (A.D. 1265). Whereas both Luther and Calvin shunned the doctrinal dialectics of the Medieval Scholastics, Calvin especially found some common ground with Augustine of certain particular points.

Luther’s Sola Scriptura did not necessitate doctrinal succession. If the Bible teaches a truth, being properly interpreted, it stands regardless of any known or unknown historical succession of thought. However for Calvin, the historical precedent of Augustine appears to have provided apologetic weight to his Institutes, originally penned only very shortly after his full conversion to the Evangelical cause:

  • 1533 (Oct), Placards incident in France (involving posters against the Mass)
  • 1534 (Jan), Placards revenge wherein the King of France received Mass six times while six Lutherans were being burned over six fires in Paris squares
  • 1534, Calvin presided over Mass three times at the Angouleme chapter
  • 1535, Calvin briefly settled in Basel
  • 1536, Calvin wrote the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion dedicated to Francis I, King of France.

Two relevancies emanate from this context. First, in his Institutes, Calvin appears to be directly responding to the prosecution and burning of Lutherans over the anti-Mass poster incident in Paris:

“The zeal of those whose cause I undertook,
“Has swelled a short defence into a book.”
(Institutes, “Epistle to the Reader”)

Second, Calvin’s training in Latin thoroughly introduced him to Lombard and Augustine, as well as to the panoply of authors available to him at that time both in Latin and French. It is scarcely reasonable to assume that he could cite texts outside of his knowledge or experience. Calvin cited from and wrestled from within the context of his own educational system.

Luther, having slowly migrated in his views towards justification by faith, was focused on the sale of indulgences when he wrote his Ninety-Five Theses, and not on the burning of heretics—even though they received his name as “Lutheran.” His wrestling was not with the hollow eyes and twitches of a skeleton blowing in the wind over a fire, but with the greed in the eyes and the sound of coins dropping into the kettles of sellers of indulgences.

Luther also wrote a magisterial appeal, “To the Christian Nobility,” in 1522, five years after nailing the theses to the Wittenberg Door. It was not until 1523 that Luther wrote the first Protestant Martyrology, “Neues Lid,” on the martyrdom of Augustinians Voez and Esch for Lutheran heresy. That burning took place in Brussels, many miles from Luther’s eyes.

However, both Calvin and Luther were cold to the sophistries of the Medieval Scholastics. Although Lombard and Aquinas cited Augustine far more than anyone else, their doctrinal positions differed markedly from those of Luther and Calvin.

Which begs the question, what is it about Augustine that makes him such a desirable ecumenical rendezvous for scholars and students generation after generation? Or to ask the question in another way…

What is the doctrinal gain or pragmatic benefit of marketing Augustine as an important figure in church history?

Several points emerge from this final question:

  1. Augustine was a master of rhetoric
  2. Augustine has a voluminous body of literature
  3. Augustine made the points that numerous scholars appreciate and cite.

So from the point of view of volume, depth, and dialectic, Augustine provides a feast of material for the cogitating human mind.

From a contextual approach, however, several considerations emerge. Augustine focused not on the Christological and Trinitarian controversies, so often associated with Early Church Historical doctrinal development, but rather on issues of soteriology and communion.

In order to understand the purpose and role of Augustine’s content, it is important to understand his context in the story of Christianity.

One must consider events preceding and concurrent to his lifetime to properly gauge where he stood in relation to these events:

  • 311, Donatus Magnus accused of rebaptizing lapsed clergy
  • 312, Emperor Constantine’s vision of a cross in the sky (hence, his conversion)
  • 313, Donatus Magnus became Bishop of Carthage (today’s Tunis, Tunisia)
  • 325, The Council of Nicaea established a minimalist doctrinal basis for Roman state-church doctrine
  • 330, Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium
  • 347, Donatus Magnus was exiled from Carthage
  • 354, Birth of Augustine in North Africa (today’s Algeria)
  • 355, Donatus Magnus died in exile
  • 386, Augustine’s conversion to Christianity
  • 387, Augustine was baptized by Ambrose
  • 391, Augustine was ordained a priest in Hippo (today’s Annaba, Algeria)
  • 395, Augustine was made coadjutor bishop of Hippo
  • 430, Augustine’s death in Hippo.

Several doctrinal issues were being formulated during the lifetime of Augustine. These matters appear to be only slightly discussed in English histories of Christianity:

  1. The development of the State-Church model versus congregational rule
  2. The development of Sacramental salvation versus an Evangelical salvation
  3. Rome’s self-determination to be the universal autocephalous church versus Byzantium or Carthage being autocephalous.

It must be noted that these three points alone have strong ramifications on how history is conceived, written, and taught (historiography), as well as on the historical-doctrinal foundations given to students who are likely unaware of the historical contexts which codified the Imperial Church’s position.

Anecdotally, any form of congregational rule is virtually absent from mainstream church histories of the Early Church. In English church histories congregational rule rarely appears until the First Great Awakening (Presbyterian), 1610 (English dissenters and Calvinist Baptists), or perhaps 1524 (Anabaptists). In some French Protestant church histories, congregational rule may date back to the Waldenses (1184) or to the earlier Cathars (formalized in 1167), disappearing into the smoke of the fires of Medieval documentation.

As to Sacramental salvation, the majority of Christian churches see the point of salvation wed to the Baptismal font (see: http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/eight-views-of-baptism.pdf). It is no surprise that churches that practice infant baptism follow the Sacramental views of Augustine on this point; their church histories naturally follow in the same vein.

Rome as an autocephalous church brings up an interesting question. When Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium, did the fourth chief monarchy in the prophecies of Daniel 2 and 7 likewise move from Rome to Byzantium? The Reformation historian Johannes Sleidan took up this topic in his Four Chief Monarchies as the Key of History [Histoire des Quatre Empires Souverains] (Geneva, 1558).

These three topics are not minor doctrinal concepts for contemporary Evangelicals. And from this trio emerges another three points issues related to Augustine: his Contra Donatisten, Contra Manichean, and Confessions.

First, Augustine spent considerable intellectual energy fighting the Donatists, who were a rival North African Christian sect based out of Carthage (only 300 kilometers from Hippo). Augustine’s writings on this topic were gathered under the heading Contra Donatisten in Philip Schaff’s Post-Nicene Fathers. It appears that Augustine argued for the autocephalous headship of Rome in these texts. He was definitely not arguing for the cause of the Bishop of Carthage, even less for congregational rule, wherein each assembly of Christians stands as its own autocephalous (independent) church.

Second, Augustine also spent time defending a Sacramental form of salvation. It appears that his rhetorical position was best defended by use of what he described as a Manichean dualism. Augustine adroitly countermanded the Evangelical position of no intermediary “between the soul and God”:

“Evangelicalism does not cease to be fundamentally antinaturalistic, however, in becoming antisacerdotal: its primary protest continues to be against naturalism, and in opposing sacerdotalism also it only is the more consistently supernaturalistic, refusing to admit any intermediaries between the soul and God, as the sole source of salvation. That only is true evangelicalism, therefore, in which sounds clearly the double confession that all the power exerted in saving the soul is from God, and that God in his saving operations acts directly upon the soul.”
(B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation [1918])

However, Augustine taught that the Sacraments were physical “signs and symbols” of the spiritual benefit that they represented. Hence, codifying Rome’s autocephalous ambitions with a monopoly on the “signs and symbols” that only its church leaders could rightly confer.

The dualism Augustine argued against was the separation between the spiritual and the physical, or as Warfield wrote, the supernatural and the natural. Augustine taught that the supernatural came through the natural substance of the Sacrament (wholistically). He conjectured that it was a dualism to consider that the supernatural and natural did not cooperate Sacramentally in this way.

Third, in Augustine’s Confessions, his conversion point is related to a child playing behind a fence, singing “Pick up and read” (Book 8, Chap 12). His conversion was due to predestination (according to his writing), and not based on his hearing of and believing in justification by faith alone (Rom 3:21-26). Nor was there any mention of the Great Commission in the Confessions, nor indeed of the need to evangelize. And these amazing omissions have characterized Roman Catholic practice since that time.

In conclusion, Augustine remains a magnetic personality and a prolific author. Many of his writings avoided the fires of censorship over sixteen centuries. Yet while many beneficial and positive lessons can be learned from Augustine, there may be need for some consternation for the reasons enumerated above. Augustine must-needs-be read in his full context.

Hence, Augustine as an ecumenical rendezvous begs the question of his context. If Christ alone, Scriptures alone, and justification by grace alone, through faith alone, and without works are important to the reader, then he may need to rendezvous elsewhere.

Simeon Stylites and History as Catechism

An ascetic Syrian monk living in the 4th and 5th Centuries has captured the minds of students of church history for a number of years. Simeon Stylites (A.D. 390-459) appears to have desired the life of a hermit. Being bothered by people coming to him for prayers, he retreated to the top of an abandoned column in the ruins of Telanissa, Syria. This column was 9 feet tall. However, due to frequent interruptions Simeon was unable to adequately continue his austerities. So he retreated to the top of a 50-foot column, living on a small platform at the top. From this station he continually repeated prayers.

Simeon Sylites

Simeon lived on a pillar for 37 years, and became quite an attraction. Over time a wall was erected around his pillar so that people would not disturb him; the wall allowed Simeon to continue his “prayerful contemplations.” His life and asceticism came to the attention of Roman Emperors Theodosius II and Leo I, as well as Genevieve of Paris. After his death Simeon was commemorated as a “Saint” successively by four church bodies, the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Eastern Catholic Church, and the Roman Catholic Church.

What is curious about the story of Simeon Stylites is that it continues to be retold as a part of Church History One with little or no biblical analysis. To the modern Evangelical reader his story seems like it comes from a different world. The retelling of his story, and that of other ascetic monks like the Western Hermit Benedict of Nursia (A.D. 480-543) form a fitting sandbox for adapting the teaching of history into catechetics—a teaching tool to modify the values of the learner.

While the lives of hundreds of evangelists who lived and ministered in the first five centuries are lost in the sands of time, these two ascetic monks were raised to sainthood by the various state churches. The life of Simeon was inscribed by one his disciples, the monk Antonius; and Pope Gregory I wrote about the life of Benedict. The lives of both of these men exemplify a readjustment of focus in Early Church evangelism, missions, salvation, and spiritual life. The ministry of Simeon Stylites and Benedict of Nursia serves to reshape the doctrinal positions of students of history on several fronts:

  • A redefinition of true Christian spirituality
  • A refocusing away from the Great Commission
  • Advancing the inadequacy of the Bible to properly interpret history
  • The need for subservience to the state-church’s decrees

This article will address each of these concerns, and provide an Evangelical response to the subtle realignment suggested through their uncritical inclusion in church histories.

As far as redefining Christian spirituality, a focus on these cenobitic monks (relationally separate from the world) diverges from the 62 “one another” commands of the New Testament. The most conspicuous of these “one another” commands is the command to “love one another.” It is found listed three times in John 13:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

All 62 of these “one another” commands can only be lived out with other Christians within the context of the local church. Therefore, obedience to these commands cannot be lived out through the ascetic isolation of the life of a hermit.

Further, true biblical spirituality does not consist of physical asceticism, as taught by Paul:

“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Col 2:20-23)

Rather Paul warned that a time would come when asceticism would replace true Christianity:

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” (1 Tim 4:1-3)

So, a “history as catechism” teaches and the titles of “saint” promulgate, the lives of Simeon Stylites and Benedict of Nursia are examples of a holy life. But their examples do not follow New Testament norms.

Then follows another tragedy, a refocus away from the Great Commission. A focus on the lives of these two hermits glamorizes their privatized, personalized, and individualized-approach to spirituality. Instead of this type of self-oriented spirituality Christ put a message in the mouths of His followers. He gave us the gospel along the command to go into the whole world with that message:

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’” (Mark 16:15)

“Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’” (Luke 24:46-47)

True spirituality is never focused for one’s own benefit or to one’s own glory. True spirituality is focused outwardly toward others with the gospel of Christ to the glory of Christ. And Christ never commanded His followers to live an ascetic life. Rather, He reframed the argument between the Stoics and Epicureans by replacing it with justification by grace alone and through faith alone.

A third unfortunate result of focusing on the spirituality of these hermits is the perception that the Bible is inadequate for properly interpreting history. Rather, for the Evangelical, the Bible must remain the interpretive lens through which all of life is analyzed and understood—including church history. The words of God’s Word provide the worldview through which the world is to be analyzed:

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. … You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deut 6:6-8)

Jesus said:

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” (Matt 7:24-27)

Yet, enter these ascetics with the accolades of territorial church’s “sainthood,” and what happens to the teachings of the New Testament? The clear teachings of the Bible contradict these lifestyles as exemplary on a number of levels. So, when they are taught as good examples without being properly vetted through the Bible’s doctrine and practice, the student of history is left with a non sequetor. In order to accept these men as valid “holy” men, he must disengage his view of spirituality as taught in the pages of the Bible.

To reconcile this obvious non sequetor, the student of history must surmise that a different set of criteria are needed for interpreting Early Church spirituality. The student is made to engage in mental historical-criticism and to relinquish his present experience and understanding of life and posit a fairytale where the Bible is no longer the foundation of all truth.

The salty historian has the student right were he wants him, in a state of ambivalence. Now the scholar provides his pupil with an answer. To properly interpret Early Church history, one must find it in and through (1) an authoritative Church, (2) Its authoritative decrees (canonizations of saints), and (3) Its authoritative Creeds. The authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures are replaced with an authoritative Church and its inerrant history.

Finally then, the Evangelical student of history is left to interpretations of history hand-selected to provide him catechetical training. His congregational view of the church is not considered. His view of the Great Commission is never addressed. Evangelism and justification by faith are lost in the rhetoric of the Trinitarian and Christological controversies. In this fourth step, the student is asked to submit his mind to the state-church’s affirmation that these ascetics we really “saints” and lived exemplary lives. He may never consider why they are included in histories or why they are lifted up as examples.

Sola Scriptura is lost in these last two transactions. The Evangelical student of history may not realize that his newfound historical-critical insight, if unchecked, will eventually impale his Evangelical view of salvation. More historical catechetics are still to come. Simeon Stylites and Benedict of Nursia are only an appetizer. Church History One is filled with delectables to disengage the mind of the student of history from New Testament doctrines, creating a distant world far removed from the possibility of analysis through Scripture!

“But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim 3:14-15)

The Wisdom of this World

“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise” 1 Corinthians 3:18

The subtlety and speed with which the wisdom of this world enters into the Christian and the church is amazing. Was it not this subtlety that led one generation after another of Israelites to fall into the trap of Baal worship? Was it not this subtlety that led the Corinthian church to fall prey to the teachings of the “super-apostles,” who were unified against Paul and his ministry?

But, more importantly in the current day, how do the subtleties of the “wisdom of this age” enter the church? How does it impact Christian higher education?

The wisdom of this age usurps spiritual wisdom whenever the clear teaching of the Bible is confounded or confused by the teachings of this world. No topic or subject is immune from the impact of the wisdom of this world. Every topic has subtleties through which the wisdom of this age can worm its way into the topic and undermine, sabotage, and twist the teaching of the Bible on the topic.

The examples are numerous, and most are very touchy. Therefore, I will not give any examples. This blog will merely point out that examples do exist en masse, and allow the reader to consider what they may be.

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” Matthew 10:16

“After Grace Has Been Received Through Baptism”?

With this 6th Century phrase the veil of the human sacraments descended upon the Western Church. The saving work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God was limited to a priest saying a series of words over the water: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The need for hearing the gospel and responding by repentance and faith was eliminated from the order of salvation. Evangelism and the work of the Evangelist were rendered useless. And from that time on in the state-endorsed Western Church, Evangelicalism no longer found a home.

These words belong to the second paragraph of the conclusion of what is called “The Second Council of Orange” (3 July 529). The original wording of the conclusion is ascribed to Archbishop Césaire d’Arles. He took the teaching of the 25 preceding Canons and added the chronological sentiment of this clause. It may be helpful to share the entire sentence from which proceeds this phrase:

“According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul”

Through this statement, Baptism—most commonly practiced as Infant Baptism—was made the very time of receiving the grace of God. Consider then, that if grace is received through the rite of Baptism, it is not received by the exercise of personal faith:

Eph 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Nor is grace received after hearing the gospel, as is clearly stated in the Bible:

Rom 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Eph 1:13, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.”

In this last verse, Paul’s use of the word “after” directly contradicts the use of the same preposition as above used by Césaire d’Arles. Persons must first hear so that afterwards they may believe and be sealed by the Spirit of promise.

Thus the need for a hearing of faith is necessary, as affirmed in Galatians:

Gal 3:2, “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

Jesus Himself taught the need for hearing His words followed by belief in the same unto eternal salvation:

John 5:24, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”

In fact, the verses directly teaching the need to hear the gospel prior to faith and receiving grace are many. The plenary teaching of New Testament salvation hinges upon this one concept.

But through one phrase in the 6th Century Second Council of Orange the Western Church system was ushered into a very long era of sacramental salvation. The impact of this one phrase cannot be overestimated.

“After grace has been received through baptism.”

This phrase shaped how salvation was conceived in the state-church after that time. Those who did not hold to this exact view of Baptism as the reception of divine grace were framed as heretical and were anathematized as such.

Centuries of doctrinal education and theological categories were strained through the filter of that phrase. The Evangelical view was framed out of doctrinal consideration. Evangelicals and Evangelicalism were scrubbed from the pages of church histories.

On a practical front, Evangelists and evangelism were pushed outside the periphery of the church and its activities. Evangelical churches and their activities became incognito. It still took another 500 years before the fires of persecution burned at the center of European town squares.

Eventually a theologian was found who fitfully framed Evangelicalism out of the question. Lombard’s Four Books of Sentences became the only standard for Western theological education for over a half a millennium. Not long after him another prominent Doctor of the Church, “that great Angelic Doctor,” applied the work of his predecessor to the cultural conditions of dealing with presumptuous heretics. Western Europe was ushered into a time of extreme spiritual darkness. Great persecution ensued.

“quod post acceptam per baptismum gratiam”
[“After grace has been received through baptism”]

With six Latin words, New Testament evangelism was almost extinguished from Western Christianity. It took the publishing of the Greek New Testament almost a thousand years later to shake Western European Christianity from its darkness and slumber.

400 years after the Protestant Reformation evangelism was birthed within theological education. In 1901 L. R. Scarborough founded and chaired the first seminary department of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. 100 years later evangelism continues on in theological education, both in teaching and practice. My prayer is for a bright future for evangelism in theological education!

Six Phases in Bible Translation

Many persons lost their lives for translating, printing, and selling copies of the Bible during the period of the Protestant Reformation. The Martyrologies of Ludwig Rabus (German), Jean Crespin (French), John Foxe (English), and Thielemann van Bracht (Dutch) all spoke of numerous individuals arrested, tried, and killed for owning or selling Bibles. Each language group and denominational inclination had its own stories and its own approved sets of martyrs—of which there were many!

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.

(1) 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.

(2) 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.

(3) 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.

(4) 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.

(5) 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.

(6) 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.

Consider the chart: http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/plays-and-counterplays-in-history-of-english-bible-translation.pdf

Or also the paper: http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/virtualized-biblical-authority.pdf 

Ecumenism and the Significance of Durand of Osca (1160-1224)

About 1102 a certain Benedictine Monk, Henry, was expulsed from the Catholic Church. He then spent some time in Lausanne, Switzerland, for which he also received the name “Henry of Lausanne.” From about 1105-1148 this same Henry evangelized around Southern France, resulting in converts and house churches. About that same time another evangelist, Peter of Bruys, also preached throughout Southern France. Peter attracted the attention of the Catholic Peter the Venerable, who wrote a tractate against him. It appears that Peter of Bruys had a shorter ministry as he “was burned at the stake by an angry mob” in St. Gilles, France, in 1126.[1]

The churches that were encouraged, revived, or founded by these men became known as the Cathar churches (for Pure Ones, or Puritans, if you will) and also Albigensian Churches, due to their prominence in the region around the French town of Albi. In 1250 the Inquisitor Reinerius Saccho differentiated between 16 denominations of these Cathars, in addition to the Poor Men of Lyons or Waldenses.

However, something very unusual happened in 1167. In 1167 an Orthodox Bulgarian Bishop named Nicetas traveled from Constantinople to Southern France to ordain six bishops at the chateau of Saint-Felix-de-Carmanan. Four of the six bishops he ordained over churches were later considered different denominations by Saccho: Church of France, Church of Carcassone, Church of Toulouse, and the Church of Albi.

What is interesting is what happened after these ordinations. The alarm of a non-Rome-approved Christian Church within the boundaries of the former Western Roman Empire caused alarm to the hierarchy of the Catholic church. This alarm was addressed in the 1178 Synod of Toulouse and the 1179 Third Lateran Council under Pope Alexander III. The 27th section of this Council harshly rebuked the Cathars and put them under the pain of anathema (the death penalty).

Then began the first crusade against the Albigenses in 1181 when the Papal Legate Henry Abbott of Clairveaux and his Catholic knights deposed the archbishop of Narbonne and laid siege on the city of Lavaur, capturing it. This began a long series of crusades against the Cathars in Southern France that continued until 1255.

Meanwhile another evangelist, Peter Valdes, had the favor of Archbishop Guichard de Pontigny in the Eastern French city of Lyons. However, when Guichard died in 1181 he was replaced by Archbishop Jean de Bellesmains. Jean promptly excommunicated Valdo and his followers from the Catholic Church. They then received the name Poor Men of Lyons, and also, due to the name of their leader, Valdez, Valdo, or Waldo, the Waldenses.

Now enter Durand of Osca. Durand was a second-generation Waldensian leader, born in Huesca or Osca (of Aragon) about 1160. In 1204, Durand took part in a debate in Pamiers, France, against the Catholic Bishop of Osma, Diego. Becoming convinced of the benefits of the Catholic system, Durand reconverted to Catholicism in 1207. Of significance is that he founded a Lower Order in 1208, the Poor Catholics. While his order did not last, three other Lower Orders soon followed his example: the Franciscans of [St] Francis (1208-1209), the Poor Reconciled of “the first” Bernard (1210), and the Dominicans of [St] Dominic (1215). It was this same Bishop Diego who gave his blessing to Dominic to found the Dominicans.[2] One focus of all four Lower Orders was to combat the spread of heresy.

Below is the “Profession of Durand d’Osca.” Several things are fascinating about this profession. First, it expands the quote from Cyprian, “outside the Church there is no salvation,” by adding the adjective “Roman” for the first time in confessional history. Second, this confession is an example of the downward steps in Catholic theology that foreshadowed the Protestant Reformation’s refocus on “Scriptures alone, faith alone, and grace alone.” Third, it clearly portrays doctrines important to Catholic leaders when seeking to reabsorb heretics or non-Catholics into their church.

As is noted below, Pope Innocent III titled this profession, “The Example.” Therefore this profession provides an example of the Catholic goals as they engage in ecumenical discussion today. So it appears that the doctrinal convictions in the Profession of Durand of Osca provide endpoints for ecumenical conversations with Roman Catholics.

The Introductory note is from a 2006 hard copy of Denzinger’s Symboles and Definitions de la Foi Catholique. The Profession is also found online, at the website in the notation. Both translations into English are mine.

Introductory note from Denzinger[3]

790-797. Letter [of Pope Innocent III] “Eius Exemplo [The Example]” to the Archbishop of Tarragon, December 18, 1208.

This letter contains the formulation of the profession of faith of Durand of Osca, or Huesca (Aragon), a Waldensian returned to the Catholic Church in 1207. The formula is repeated in a letter to the Archbishop of Tarragon and to his subordinates on May 12, 1210 (PL 216,274D), and in a slightly abbreviated form, in a letter of June 14, 1210 (PL 216,289C-293A; Potthast 4014) in which is proclaimed the conversion of the Waldense Bernard Prim. The research of A. Dondaine and of J. Leclercq have permitted to establish that already P. Valdes himself had taken a vow by an analogous formulation during the Council of Lyons between 1179 and 1181 in the presence of the Cardinal-Legat Henry, Bishop of Albano; this formulation (ed. by A. Dondaine, ArchFrPr 16 [1946], 231s; K.-V. Selge, Die ersten Waldenser 2 [Berlin, 1967], 3-6) has without contest served as the model for ulterior formulations.

Ed.: PL215,1510C-1513A (Letters XI 196).—Reg.: Potthast 3571.

Text of Profession (1208)[4]

Letter “Euis exemplo [The Example]” to the Archbishop of Tarragon, Dec 18, 1208.
The profession of faith prescribed to the Waldenses

May all believers know that I, Durant of Osca… and all our brothers, we believe from our heart, we recognize by faith, we confess from our mouth and we affirm by these simple words:
The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are three persons, one God only, and all the Trinity is co-essential, consubstantial, coeternal, and all-powerful, and each of the persons within the Trinity is fully God, as is contained in the “I believe in God” [30 150 75]
We equally believe from our heart and confess with our mouth that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God alone as we have spoken, created made, governs and ordains all things corporate and spiritual, visible and invisible.
We believe that the author of the New and of the Old Testament is one and the same: God who, as it is said, subsist in the Trinity, created all things from nothing; and that John the Baptist was sent by him, holy and righteous, and filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb of his mother.

We believe from our heart and we confess from our mouth that the incarnation was not accomplished in the Father nor in the Holy Spirit, but only in the Son; in such a way that he who was the divine Son of God the Father, was, humanly, the Son of Man, true man from a mother, having true flesh within the entrails of the mother and a reasonable human soul; at the same time the two natures, that is God and man, one person only, only one Son, only one Christ, only one God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, author of all things and who directs all things, born of the Virgin Mary by a true fleshly birth; he ate and drank, he slept, and tired after a trip, he rested; he suffered a true passion in his flesh, and died a true death in his body, and was resurrected in his flesh and by a true return of the soul to the body; in this flesh, after having eaten and drank, he was raised up to heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, and he will return to judge the living and the dead.

We believe from our heart and confess with our mouth only one church, not that of the heretics, but the holy Roman Church, catholic, apostolic, and outside of which we believe that no one is saved.

Similarly we do not reject in any way the sacraments which are celebrated within her, and through which the Holy Spirit cooperates by His inestemable and invisible virtue, even if they are administered by a sinful priest, from the moment that the church recognizes it; and neither do we despise ecclesiastical actions and the benedictions accomplished by him, but we accept them from a watchful heart just as if they came from the most righteous men, for the malice of a bishop or priest does not annihilate the baptism of a child, nor the consecration of the Eucharist, nor the other ecclesiastic offices celebrated for their subjects.

We therefore approve of the baptism of children, and if they are dead after their baptism, before they committed any sins, we confess and believe that they are saved; and we believe that in baptism all sins are remitted, so also original sin that was contracted as those that we voluntarily committed.
We esteem that the confirmation done by a bishop, that is the laying on of hands, is holy and must be received with veneration.

We firmly and unalterably believe from a sincere heart, and we affirm simply with words filled with faith, that the sacrifice, that is to say the bread and the wine, is, after consecration, the true body and true blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, and that nothing more is accomplished by a good priest and that nothing less by a bad priest, for it is not accomplished by the merit of him who consecrates, but by the word of the Creator and by virtue of the Holy Spirit. This is why we believe and firmly confess that regardless if a person may be so honest, so religious, so holy, and so prudent, he may not consecrate the Eucharist nor accomplish the sacrifice of the altar, unless he is a priest and regularly ordained by a visible and tangible bishop. For this office, three things are necessary: a determinate person, that is to say a priest particularly established unto that office by a bishop, as we have said; these are the solemn words expressed by the Holy Fathers in the Canon; and the intention of the faith of him who utters [the consecration]; this is why we believe and firmly confess that whosoever, without the ordination of a bishop as we have said, thinks and pretends to be able to realize the sacrifice of the Eucharist, is a heretic; he participates in the iniquity of the sons of Korah and his accomplices [Nb 16], and he must be separated from the Holy Roman Church.
We believe that unto sinners who truly repent the pardon of God is granted by God, and that it is with great joy that we are in communion with them.
We venerate the anointing of the infirm with oil.
We do not deny that carnal marriages must be made contractual, according to the Apostle [1 Cor 7], and we absolutely prohibit the breaking of those that were regularly solemnized. We believe and we confess that a man may also be saved with his wife, and neither do we condemn second or other weddings.
We do not reprove in any way the consumption of meats. Nor do we condemn the taking of a vow, even more, we believe from a sincere heart that it is permitted to swear according to the truth, the sentence and righteousness.
(addition in 1210: On the subject of secular power, we affirm that he may, without mortal sin, exercise judgment unto the shedding of blood, provided that, in exercising the verdict, he does not proceed with hatred but according to the sentence, nor carelessly but with moderation.).

We believe that preaching is very necessary and is praiseworthy, however we believe that it must be accomplished by virtue of the authorities or with the permission of the supreme pontiff or the prelates. But in all the places where manifest heretics reside who deny and blaspheme God and the faith of the Roman Church, we believe that we must, according to the will of God, confound them by disputation and exhortation, and bring in opposition to them the Word of the Lord, with head held high and unto death, as unto the adversaries of Christ and of the Church.
Ecclesiastical ordinations and everything that is read or sung according to what has been established, we humbly approve of and we venerate according to the faith.

We believe that the devil did not become evil for by his condition, but by his free choice.
We believe from all our heart and we confess with a loud voice the resurrection of this flesh that is ours and not that which is other.
We believe and we firmly affirm that there will also be a judgment by Jesus Christ and that everyone, according to what he has done in this flesh, will receive punishment or recompense.
We believe that alms, the sacrifice and other good works can benefit the deceased.
Those that live in this world and own goods, we profess and believe that they will be saved if they give alms and do other good works with that which they possess, and if they observe the commandments of God. We believe that, according to the precept of the Lord, tithes, first fruits and offerings should be paid to clergy.



[1]These events are explained in my “Evangelism in the Western Church: A Chronological History and Theology”; available at: http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/ewc_part%201-chronological_history20110728b.pdf; accessed 14 July 2014; Internet.

[2]“Durand de Huesca”; available at: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durand_de_Huesca; accessed 9 July 2014; Internet. “Durand de Huesca”; http://www.eresie.it/it/Durand_de_Huesca.htm; accessed 9 July 2014; Internet.

[3]Heinrich Denzinger, Peter Hünermann (ed., original edition), and Joseph Hoffmann (ed., French edition), Symboles et définitions de la foi catholique: Enchiridion Symbolorum (aka. Denzinger, or DS), 38th ed. (37th ed., Freiburg: Herder, 1997; Paris: Cerf, 2005), DS 790-797, “Introduction.” Translation mine.

[4]“1996 Denzinger”; available at: http://www.catho.org/9.php?d=bwi; accessed 2 July 2013; Internet. Translation mine.

A Current Evangelical Awakening?

When John MacArthur spoke in chapel at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary last year, he made a comment that struck me. Without wanting to misquote him or his intent, I remember that he said some thing to this effect: “We are in the midst of a religious awakening and we may not even know it!” He went on to describe the wonder of thousands of people downloading his sermons, including people in the rice patties of Thailand.

In 2012 Tim Challies wrote an article entitled, “Where Did the New Calvinists Come From?” In that article he cited Mark Dever who wrote on the same subject. The question being discussed was the issue of cause and effect. Both Dever and Challies looked at individuals, publishing houses, and organizations.

In 2014 Challies came back to the theme of his 2102 article, this time providing a chart with an expanded visual of the possible threads of the individuals, events, and organizations involved in giving rise to the “New Calvinism.” In 2014 the ten organizations is expanded into a very helpful 7-page chart.

Jason Allen, in his blog, considered the longevity of “New Calvinism” as a movement. Allen concluded that because of its focus on Scripture and its implications, the New Calvinism “leads one to classify it as a reformation in intent, temperament, and scope.”

As we ponder God’s working in history, it is hard to ignore the wind of God’s Holy Spirit drawing young people to desire God and to listen to His voice.

So I would recommend the modification of this chart to include the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention. This resurgence was explained in a paper by Paige Patterson, “The Anatomy of a Reformation,” given at the Evangelical Theological Society.

However, this conservative resurgence did not limit itself to the confines of the SBC. Because of this resurgence, the SBC seminaries were transformed. And it was not long that via the halls of academia, U.S. Evangelicalism as a whole benefited. Those with conservative points of view were given a voice and a pen. Their writings were published and read. They were active first on YouTube, and then on social media. And for the minds of youth and students, those with a Reformed approach to doctrine seemed to win in the battle of ideas.

I personally felt the fault lines, being that I teach evangelism. Easy-believism was being shunned by many of my students, and they brought their ideas to my classes. My doctrinal positions were not very different than theirs. However, the salient issues were wrought out in the practice of evangelism.

Jason Allen, president of Midwestern is correct, New Calvinism is more than a fad. Because its feet are firmly planted in Scriptures its future is underwritten by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The popularity of the T4G conference last month in Louisville, Kentucky, attended by 7,900 participants, under the topic “Unashamed” [of the gospel], portrays the power of this grassroots Evangelical Awakening currently taking place. May the Lord continue His good work!

Persecution in Calvin’s world

Romans 8:36 includes a very unexpected quote, amid the triumphant language of some of the prior verses:

Rom 8:36, “As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.'”

When I thought about the many thousands of Christians being persecuted and put to death in countries all across the world, this verse still rings true today. However, when thinking about the context of the Protestant Reformation, and the capital punishment that they saw and heard about on a regular basis, this regular death toll taught them experiential lessons about the depravity of man and false salvation. Without wanting to fall into the fallacy ad antiquitam (because it is old it is better), the theology of the Reformers was fleshed out in a gritty context where living for Jesus had a price. To see a paper I wrote on the 67 named martyrs from Geneva who were executed in France and other places for the gospel, please consider “Calvin’s Evangelistic Zeal as Exemplified in Crespin’s Martyrology” (available @ http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/Crespin.pdf).

Rev 12:11, “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death”

Rethinking Church History One

When was evangelism removed from the discussion points in church history prior to the Reformation? When did the fulfillment of the Great Commission (including church planting) become a part of the “History of Missions,” and not a part of “Church History” proper?

When was a particular atonement dropped from the theology of the Church of Rome? When did taking or doing certain sacraments become the accepted approach to salvation, rather than salvation through hearing the gospel, repenting and believing in Jesus, and all by the grace of God alone?

These questions and many more may be asked of the early church. It seems like their true answer is clouded in vagaries and couched in evasion.

But there actually was a time in the early church when some of its manifestations were Evangelical. And throughout the history of the churches, there have been some who have maintained a gospel witness.

This fact was brought to my attention when I read the 1999 French book called “The Gospel and Evangelism in the 12th and 13th Centuries” (see cover @  evangile et evangelisme2). I was shocked that this subject was even a matter of discussion for these French University professors. But the content of the book radically reoriented my view of both the Middle Ages and the Early Church.

In fact, I wrote a paper on my preliminary findings based on this book titled, “Dying for the Great Commisssion: A 13th Century Struggle over Definition” (available @ http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/dgc-text9_w_cover.pdf).

Yet, while there are many unanswered questions in early church history, from God’s vantage point, one thing is clear: God has never left Himself without a witness in the church age, and this in three ways:

  • He maintains His witness to all men through creation (Acts 14:17);
  • He preserves His witness through His Holy Word (Psa 12:6-7);
  • He extends His witness through His blood-bought church (Matt 16:18).