Wednesday 28 January 2015

A Commentary and Sermons on the "Song of Songs" by Richard Brooks

We had a reformation Bible conference recently in Sheffield and Rev. Richard Brooks preached on the Song of Songs. He emphasised that it is the "Song of Songs", that being an idiom for the "Song of all songs" and not simply the "Song of Solomon", even though Solomon was the human author. Richard has a sensible and rich Christological approach to this book and as a faithful EPCEW minister commented to me recently: "If this book is not about our union and communion with Christ, then its place in the Canon does not make sense".

Richard has a commentary on "the Song" as he affectionately refers to this Bible book which is published by Christian Focus. It is now out of print, but you will still find copies if you google, try Amazon and elsewhere.

If you prefer to listen rather than reading, then check out his sermons on the Sheffield Presbyterian website. The link is:

The biblical book of the "Song of Songs" really needs a good healthy spiritual recovery in the church. This book in the wrong hands is a disaster, such as the way Mark Driscoll handled it. However, in the hands and mouths of faithful Christian ministers, it has much to teach concerning Christ and his church.

This is how the bride responds to Christ in this book: "My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand" (5:10). Could you use such language to speak of the Lord Jesus Christ? I hope so!

Friday 23 January 2015

Which English Bible translation should I use?

We are so blessed, even spoiled shall I say, in the English speaking world with a disproportionate amount of material on every given subject in the English language. This is true also regarding Bible translations. However, we must ask whether all Bible translations are equally valid and what should I do when people challenge me regarding the translation that I or a church use?

Two issues come to mind initially.

1. What is the philosophy of the translators or the publishers for a translation?

There are three main approaches to translating which is an art. We believe that it is the original biblical manuscripts of Koine Greek, Hebrew and the small sections in the OT in Aramaic which are immediately inspired. This does not mean that we have a loss of confidence in a good English translation, but this fact must be borne in mind. My wife is Dutch and there are quite simply some words in Dutch which are very difficult to translate. You need to know the mood, the context and Dutch culture to fully understand them. The English love definitions, but some things are not understood just by definition alone. This is also true of the meaning of the biblical languages to a degree.

Here are three different approaches to Bible translation:

A. Some translations seek a literal, but readable translation and these include the ESV, the NASB, NKJV and KJV. This is the ideal in my opinion and I have never preached regularly from any other translation than these.

B. A dynamic equivalent translation includes the NIV. The problem with this approach is that the NIV will substitute words, for example adultery with sexual immorality or something like that, to help the modern reader grasp what is being taught. However, the original text has a much more precise word in mind. This has led in my view to the NIV having a "blunted sword" which lacks precision and clarity.

C. A paraphrase. Sometimes these come close to falling into rank error and a serious mishandling of the original text. For example the Message, the Living Bible and other translations like them, loosely paraphrase the Bible into ultra-contemporary language and miss the biblical ideas. For example the Message was first published in around 1999/2000, but it is already out of date in its language use.

The definite preference is for category A for a reliable translation and certainly one for use in public worship, public reading and preaching.

2. What about the so-called King James only controversy?

With the development of new translations, there has been a defence in some circles of the King James Bible. Some have claimed that the KJV is the only inspired translation in English. This has been developed further by some advocates, who seemingly infer that the NKJV is the only ideal translation for the church. Well time does not permit an extensive assessment here, but I recommend a book by James White called: "The King James Only Controversy: Can you trust the Modern Translations?".

Often in the Christian church fundamentalist assertions are made which sound good, but they cannot stand up to the test of rigorous scrutiny. The KJV and NKJV use an old Greek manuscript called the Textus Receptus which was compiled by the Dutch humanist Erasmus. Some claim that this is the only reliable Greek manuscript. However, since this early 16th Century Greek text was compiled, there have been huge manuscript discoveries which make for a much more enhanced Greek text (Note the 27th Edition of the Nestle Aland Greek Text). Fundamentalism often makes assertions based on guilt and this camp can often assert that unless you follow them at each and every point, then you are disobeying God. It may sound plausible, but it can lead to guilt-ridden untested assumptions.

When the ESV came out I was delighted. I had been using the NKJV for preaching for a long time. R. C. Sproul asserted somewhat enthusiastically that the ESV was "the translation he had waited for all of his life". After using the ESV for almost 10 years I largely agree. I do not agree with the ESV's translation of the phrase "only Son" such as in John 3:16 and elsewhere, when the original Greek word there should be translated as "the only begotten Son". But, this is why we need ministers trained in the original languages.

I hope that this post is of some help. My aim is always pastoral in these blog posts and sometimes my goal as here, is to "massage wrinkles" and avoid unnecessary divisions in the body of Christ, ones which need not be. As ever, feel free to put forward comments on the blog and put a differing point if needed.

Revelation 22:18-19 "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book".

KJV = King James Version
NKJV = New King James Version
NASB = New American Standard Bible
ESV = English Standard Version

(Note that a major oversight in the KJV only argument, is that truth must be communicated in the language of the day in a given situation. The KJV is archaic Elizabethan English which no one speaks today, except in parts of Yorkshire :-) ).

(A second Note: I have no issue with anyone preaching from the NKJV, NASB or ESV in public worship. But I will push back strongly when people try to infer a superiority of any one of these fine translations against another, in a way that is divisive or one that undermines the true unity of the church).

Wednesday 14 January 2015

January 2015: Trying to make sense of the recent events in Paris

Jesus answered [Pilate before his crucifixion], “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).

Two mutually exclusive worldviews clashed last week in France over the Charlie Hebdo depictions of cartoons regarding Islam. What can you say, what can you make of this? Having seen some of the cartoons in the media, I was not impressed with such aggressive secular cartoons, making light of what others consider to be very important. The West seem to have risen up en masse to protest for the importance of free speech. But what is free speech? My ears pricked up when after the events of the killings in the offices of Charlie Hebdo by some Muslim young men, that a French secular commentator spoke of the "sacred value of free speech". When you disect and analyse such a comment, it is indeed a self-contradictory statement.

Here are two worldviews clashing in France and indeed in the West. It must be perplexing for Muslim's living in the West by choice, to find that in contrast to many of the countries where they have come from, that the West does not offer undue respect for Islam or the teachings of Islam. Furthermore, the West do not uphold that Islam is sacred, anymore than other things may be sacred. Though the West has had a Christian heritage, in many parts, this has given way to a strong secular and even atheistic agenda. Muslim's must realise that the Charlie Hebdo situation has no link with Christianity, but with secularism.

Likewise the West and its secular agenda need to wake up on several fronts. The West must realise that Islam is essentially a political ideology and that its teaching requires legal support by the state to uphold its values for it to fully succeed. Hence the calls for Sharia Law and the takeover of Islam in Western countries. For some reason certain facets regarding Islam are just never discussed in the public sphere, even though we are told we believe in free speech. Many of the Western leaders are highly intolerant of religion, indeed they have little time for religion and quite frankly they do not believe in the sacred value of free speech, but only when it suits them.

Currently, the West promotes a secular atheistic, anti-marriage (by Christian definition) and pro-homosexual or trans-gender programme. For some strange reason the sacred value of free speech breaks down when people say they disagree with their worldview. For example for anyone to have an interview at a University in the West and openly say that they believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven and that all other views are false and also that they reject evolution as an unbiblical and untenable scientific theory; would they be given the job? Almost definitely not, because they are rejecting the pluralistic, multi-faith so-called "free speech" platform. It is a so-called free speech agenda with rules defined by secular humanists.

Two final thoughts. Karl Marx once wrote that: "Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions".

Sadly, in the West today, materialism is often the opium of the people.

The Bible is very clear and it has unique claims which will be rejected by secularists and followers of Islam alike and similarly both will be intolerant of the sayings of the Bible. For example "Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Both the secularists and the teachers of Islam are wrong regarding Jesus Christ and both are equally intolerant and both equally forbid freedom of speech regarding the claims of Jesus Christ. Jesus said that "I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:23-24). If Muslim's and secularists do not confess and acknowledge that Jesus is God's Saviour and the only promised Redeemer of men and women sent by God, then they will die in their sins and face the judgment of God without a Saviour. That is the truth.

For Christians, be encouraged that we do not fight flesh and blood. This world is inherently sinful, and yet our God of heaven is in control. Pray for all peoples to saved and to be brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Monday 5 January 2015

The Majesty of the Message of the Book of Hebrews

Since the early part of 2014, I have been preaching through the Book of Hebrews in the morning services at Sheffield Presbyterian Church. My, what fine spiritual riches are to be found in this important book. I think that if you were to ask many Christians, "which book of the Bible has profoundly impacted the church?", they would rightly answer the book of Romans. However, the Book of Hebrews is a suitable counterbalance to the flawless logic of Romans. Let me sum up this short devotional blog post around answering three questions.

What are some of the important themes in Hebrews?

1. An appreciation for the Person of the Son, who in time in his incarnation took upon himself the name Jesus.
2. The fulfilment of the OT ceremonial worship by Jesus Christ.
3. A rich understanding for the atonement.
4. To avoid going backwards to OT ceremonies which are commonly sought to be reintroduced to the church, such as candles, vestments, altars, stained glass, priestly robes and so forth.
5. The simplicity of NT worship which should be conducted with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).

What are some commentaries that I have found helpful on this book?

Here are the commentaries that I have found most helpful in order.

1. A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes.
2. The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Geerhardus Vos.
3. I Wish Someone Would Explain Hebrews to Me! Stuart Olyott.
4. A Commentary on Hebrews by John Owen (this is thick with six volumes and though Owen is very helpful, he is not always right, though he is very persuasive).
5. Hebrews, Simon J. Kistemaker.

Peter Naylor gave an excellent talk on preaching through Hebrews at the EPCEW presbytery conference in January 2014. The link is:

In what way can Hebrews help the church in 2015 and onwards?

I think a rich appreciation of the teaching of Hebrews, could equip the church better to handle two dangers in particular; dispensationalism and new patterns of worship dominated by protracted periods of singing at the expense of preaching and the reading of Scripture or the administration of the sacraments.

The dispensational agenda seeks a third Jewish temple and the rebuilding of political Zion. Hebrews explains that the OT ceremonies are simply a shadow and copy of the real thing which is the heavenly tabernacle (Hebrews chapter 8 and especially verse 5). In addition Hebrews emphasises the ingredients for biblical worship are to focus on Jesus the mediator of the new covenant and his atoning blood, there is no other approach. Music bands cannot substitute the mediator and also Hebrews 12:28 has to be a crucial verse to be implemented in our day. Hebrews 12:28-29 "Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire".