Weekly Devotion 3/31/2013: A Shoot from Jesse’s Stump

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This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Weekly Devotions

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of theLORD” (vv. 1–2).

- Isaiah 11:1–11

Continuing his look at the restoration of God’s people that would come after the destruction Assyria would visit upon Israel and Judah (as well as after the Babylonian exile), Isaiah in today’s passage records another well-known prophecy. This is the famous text that foresees a shoot coming forth from “the stump of Jesse,” a shoot whose reign would destroy all evil and bring peace to the earth (Isa. 11:1–11).

Let us not miss the significance of all the prophet is saying. First, Isaiah speaks of “the stump of Jesse” (v. 1). The image here is of a tree that has been so devastated that only a stump remains. Jesse, of course, was the father of King David (1 Sam. 16:1–13), so Isaiah is speaking of the Davidic line of kings. The prophet saw that things were going to get very bad for the people of God. David’s line would decline to such a degree that it would be essentially left for dead. History tells us this is exactly what happened, with David’s royal dynasty all but dying out as a result of God’s judgment of His people through Assyria and Babylon. Nevertheless, Isaiah also saw that while the Davidic line would seem to be dead, life would remain within the stump. A shoot—life barely detectable at first—would emerge. But once this shoot went forth, it would become a mighty tree. A king of humble origins would be a signal for the nations after the exile (Isa. 11:2–10).

All of this is brought out in Isaiah’s reference to the shoot “from Jesse,” not “from David” (v. 1). John Calvin comments that Isaiah “does not call him David, but Jesse; because the rank of that family had sunk so low, that it appeared to be not a royal family, but that of a mean peasant, such as the family of Jesse was, when David was unexpectedly called to the government of the kingdom.” However, that is not the only significance in Isaiah’s reference to the coming Messiah being the shoot of Jesse. Commentators point out that the only king in the Old Testament who was called the son of Jesse was David. All of the rest of the kings were called sons “of David.” In applying the parentage of Jesse specifically to the coming Messiah, Isaiah is doing more than revealing the family from whom the Messiah will come. He is revealing that the Messiah will be at least as important in the history of redemption as David was. In fact, as later revelation tells us, the Messiah is even greater than David, being David’s Lord as well as David’s son (Ps. 110:1; Mark 12:35–37).

Coram Deo

One of the things that makes Jesus the Messiah greater than even David himself is His righteousness in judging the poor and deciding with equity for “the meek of the earth” (Isa. 11:4). Christ is the incomparably noble and righteous King, the only one who can flawlessly ensure that the least of all people will receive perfect justice. This is a great comfort for us in an increasingly anti-Christian society that seeks to marginalize and silence us.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 16:18–20
Psalm 96
John 5:22–23
1 Peter 1:17

Courtesy of Ligonier Ministries

Embrace tradition and orthopraxy

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“It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.”

—Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1876), 1.

“Tradition is the fruit of the Spirit’s teaching activity from the ages as God’s people have sought understanding of Scripture. It is not infallible, but neither is it negligible, and we impoverish ourselves if we disregard it.”

—J.I. Packer, “Upholding the Unity of Scripture Today,” JETS 25 (1982): 414

“The best way to guard a true interpretation of Scripture, the Reformers insisted, was neither to naively embrace the infallibility of tradition, or the infallibility of the individual, but to recognize the communal interpretation of Scripture. The best way to ensure faithfulness to the text is to read it together, not only with the churches of our own time and place, but with the wider ‘communion of saints’ down through the age.”

—Michael Horton, “What Still Keeps Us Apart?

“There is rugged terrain ahead for those who are constitutionally incapable of referring to the paths marked out by wise and spirit-filled cartographers over the centuries.”

—Larry Woiwode, Acts (New York: HarperCollins, 1993).

What I said at my father’s memorial service

My father’s death was unexpected and in every sense of the word, tragic. The following is the speech that I gave this past Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at my father’s memorial service at Mount Vernon Baptist Church. The words are mine but the strength to deliver them came from God alone.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Rom. 8:18

Joseph Richard “Ric” Spratlin
April 25, 1957 – January 21, 2011

I’ve had a father for twenty-five years. I’ve only not had a father for five days. So I ask for your patience and understanding as I find it difficult to work through my emotions and thoughts. But still I will try.

Indeed, this trying — this effort to accomplish the seemingly impossible — is a gift I’ve received from my father.

Os Guinness once wrote, “If asked what is the deepest relationship imaginable, many people would say it is between lovers, or between husbands and wives. The case can be made, however, that from a Christian perspective, no relationship is more mysterious and more wonderful, yet sometimes more troubling, than that of fathers and sons.”

For these last few days, everything has been so strange and disorienting. It’s as though the fabric of reality has been torn or twisted. I keep wondering if I’ve been transported to a parallel universe. One of those strange fictional worlds where animals can talk, or where dad is alive.

I’ve had a hard time sleeping these last few nights. I keep waking up in the middle of the night, trying to believe the new reality. But despite all the grief, the pain, the infinite night amazingly, inexplicably, the sun keeps coming up.

I was shocked when I first saw it rise on Saturday morning. The audacity of such a thing was insulting. My family’s universe lying in pieces, and yet the sun did not stop; not for me, nor anyone else. And when the same thing happened on Sunday morning — the rays of light coming in my bedroom window — I finally realized that this was not some fictional universe. It was the same universe I’ve always been in. The sadness was real. The heartbreak was real. The sun was real. But also, the love was real.

As I thought about what I was going to say up here I tried to remember all the happy times we all had with him. I know my mother and sister have their own memories and stories to share. Me? I couldn’t stop thinking about how he would always pinch his nose when he sneezed. The three of us would tell him that he shouldn’t do that. That he would hurt his ears. I couldn’t stop thinking about how he would tuck his undershirts into his underwear. We’d make fun of him relentlessly for this but that didn’t stop him. These are the things I remember. The small quirks in his personality that only those close to him would know. Traits that were once his are now memories belonging to my family and me forever.

Many I talked to said that standing up here would be too hard for them. I never thought that. I could talk about my dad forever.

Looking out I see many family and friends. It is such a healing gift to be surrounded by your love for my father. Thank you for coming and showing my family and me that my father holds a special place in your heart. Your friendship allows us to know that my father will be nearby because of the memories stored within you. Please share them with us. Never hold back, not now or in the years to come.

I’ve always felt cheated that my own grandfather passed away before I got to meet him. And now history has horribly repeated itself. But when my children ask, “What was grandpa like?” I know what I’m going to say.

I’ll say: look at all these people around you — all these family and friends, all the people who knew dad and the incredible bonds between them.

We’re like a giant jigsaw puzzle that fits together so tightly that when you remove one piece, you can still see its outline in the empty space. All of the love dad left behind — the relationships he nurtured —they define his shape. You can still see him and feel him.

And still, every morning, amazingly, inexplicably, the sun keeps coming up.

 

Hermeneutical gymnastics and revisionist history of the KJVO crowd – Acts 12:4

Well it’s not Easter so this isn’t the most timely post, but it stems from my research into claims frequently made by non-Christians and some Christians, specifically the King James Onlyists. I was speaking to a group of them (KJVOs, that is) on PalTalk about the KJV rendering of Acts 12:4

And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people. (emphasis mine)

The word “Easter” jumps out at anyone reading this passage who has a cursory knowledge of Church history or, well, history in general. Why? Well, because the earliest extant primary source referencing Easter is a mid-2nd century Paschal homily attributed to Melito of Sardis, which characterizes the celebration as a well-established one.

When was Acts written? Some scholars date Acts c. A.D. 70. This assumes that Acts was written after the Gospel of Luke (Acts 1:1) and that Luke used the Gospel of Mark as one of his sources (Luke 1:1–2). (Early tradition has Mark’s Gospel written after Peter’s death, which most likely occurred in the mid-60s.) Others date Acts in the 70s or 80s. They hold that the primary purpose of Acts was to give an account of how and where the gospel spread, rather than to be a defense of Paul’s ministry (thus accounting for the omission of the events at the end of his life). Thus the gospel spread to “the end of the earth” (Acts 1:9)—that is, to Rome, which represented the end of the earth as the center of world power. But a number of scholars date Acts as early as A.D. 62, basing their view primarily on the abrupt ending of the book. Since Acts ends with Paul in Rome under house arrest, awaiting his trial before Caesar (Acts 28:30–31), it would seem strange if Luke knew about Paul’s release (a proof of his innocence), possibly about his defense before Caesar (fulfilling Acts 27:24), and about his preaching the gospel as far as Spain, but then did not mention these events at the end of Acts. It seems most likely, then, that the abrupt ending is an indication that Luke wrote Acts c. A.D. 62, before these events occurred.

So here you have the KJV referencing a holiday that didn’t come to be known by the name “Easter” for almost 200 years AFTER the book of Acts was penned. How is this possible? Well, it’s not possible. This is just one of many places in the KJV where a word is mistranslated and plainly wrong. Does that mean the KJV isn’t the inspired word of God? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. It just means that the KJV translators were wrong in this instance and on other instances. Does this mistranslation affect doctrine? No, it does not. It does, however, cast doubt (when combined with other evidence) on the KJVO crowd and their devotion to the KJV as the ONLY perfect word of God.

If you are a KJVO you may object saying, “Hey! This passage isn’t mistranslated. Luke is referencing the pagan holiday associated with the goddess Ishtar not the Jewish passover.” Well, not only would you be wrong on that account but even if you were right that still wouldn’t explain why the KJV translates it using a term that was non-existent at the time of the writing.

Why is your interpretation wrong? Allow me to explain, please. The word that is in question here is pascha (πασχα) and appears 29 times in the NT. The KJV translates the other 28 instances of this word correctly as “the passover” because, well, that’s what the word means. For example, take a look at the KJV rendering of John 19:14

And it was the preparation of the passover (του πασχα), and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! (emphasis and Greek mine)

So, as you can see the KJV translates pascha (πασχα) here correctly as “passover” but the same word is translated as “Easter” in Acts 12:4. Why? It is true that words have different meanings in different contexts so maybe the word really is a reference to the pagan holiday in the context of Acts 12. Is that possible? Let’s look. The context reads (Acts 12:3-4 ESV):

[3] and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. [4] And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people.

I don’t see why one would think that Luke is referring to the pagan holiday if the verse directly preceding the use of pascha (πασχα) says that “this was during the days of Unleavened Bread.” The days of Unleavened Bread, the seven days following the Passover meal, were considered holy and not to be desecrated by an execution. Luke is clearly referring to the entire spring festival that unites Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, not to a pagan holiday that, again, wasn’t known by the term “Easter” for almost 200 years later.

Some KJVOs will attempt to argue that Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread are completely separate holidays and since v. 3 tells us that this is happening during the “days of Unleavened Bread” that Luke can’t possibly mean the day of Passover because that would have already passed. It must then mean the pagan holiday. Dr. James White, in his absolutely wonderful book The King James Only Controversy explains why this isn’t a convincing argument:

The argument is that the days of unleavened bread extended from the fifteenth to the twenty-first of the month, while Passover itself was the fourteenth. Hence, according to this line of reasoning, the Passover was already past, and Herod, a pagan, was referring to “Easter” in its pagan celebration, not the Passover. The problem, of course, is that (1) the term Easter would still be a misleading translation, since the celebration the English reader thinks of is far removed from pagan worship of Astarte; (2) Herod Agrippa, according to the Jewish historian Josephus,1 was a conspicuous observer of the Jewish customs and rituals, and since he was attempting to please the Jews (Acts 12:3), it is obvious that Luke is referring to the Jewish Passover, not a pagan celebration; (3) the argument depends upon making the days of unleavened bread a completely separate period of time from the Passover. For the KJV Only position, unfortunately, the Passover is used of the entire celebration, including the days of unleavened bread after the actual Passover sacrifice at other places in Scripture (note the wrapping up of the entire celebration within the“feast of the Jews” in John 2:13; 2:23; 6:4; 11:55). This attempt at saving the KJV from a simple mistake fails under examination. (emphasis original)2

FOOTNOTES
  1. Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews (XIX.7.3) in The Works of Josephus (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1980), 410-11. []
  2. James R. White, The King James Only Controversy: Can We Trust the Modern Versions? 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, Minn: Bethany House, 1995), 291-2. []

Extraordinary claim, extraordinary evidence?

Do extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence?

Hume offered this challenge in “Of Miracles” in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

This requirement is offered in response to the miracle claims of Christianity as though it’s an obvious, well-established principle.  But it’s actually not clear what the criteria of “extraordinary evidence” is, and here are three lines of response.  These are rebuttals, calling into question the principle in the requirement, rather than refutations because the challenge itself has to be supported by an argument and clarified for the nature of what is being required.

First, there needs to be a clarification.  The nature of the “extraordinary evidence” required can be understood in two ways: extraordinary with respect to quality or extraordinary with respect to quantity.

If the former (quality), then the evidence produced is itself extraordinary, and it will also need to meet the requirement of having extraordinary evidence, and a vicious regress ensues.  If the quality of evidence for an extraordinary claim must also be extraordinary in quality, then it will also have to have extraordinary evidence.  But then the condition can never be met, and suffers from the fallacy of “begging the question” against extraordinary events in an unfair manner. The game is rigged by the request.

And perhaps that is the point of the requirement because it presupposes naturalism, precluding the possibility of offering evidence that will justify a supernatural claim.

If the requirement is for an extraordinary quantity of evidence, then the next question is, how much ordinary evidence is necessary for the total quantity to be considered extraordinary?  This is perhaps a “problem of heaps” – how much is enough?  There is no determinate solution (at least epistemically, if not metaphysically determinate).  So once again, it’s begging the question to ask for extraordinary evidence.

An alternative for answering the question of sufficient quantity of evidence would be to allow that there is some amount of evidence sufficient for establishing the probability of an ordinary event.  But then, the fact that we find a certain multiple of the ordinary amount of evidence sufficiently extraordinary is either a case of evidential over-determination or is itself an extraordinary event, and once again leads to an infinite regress.

A third response to the demand recognizes that very extraordinary events happen all the time if the co-occurrence of several features in a state of affairs is evaluated probabilistically.  (That an American high school kid from Seattle would be at a Halloween party in Tel Aviv and there meet an American high school girl from Pensacola and later marry her is highly improbable; in fact, the people I know who this is true of might be the only two people in all of history who fulfill that concurrence of events.)

So no matter how extraordinary the event, no explanation is needed because extraordinary events happen all the time.

(Thanks to Dr. Garry Deweese, Biola University, for this line of response.)

(HT Greg Koukl)

A practical 9-step guide to studying any theological issue

1. Pray for an open mind and heart

While people can intellectually understand truth without the Holy Spirit moving in their heart, no one can accept the truth without its influence (1 Cor. 2:14-15).The same goes for us as Christians. We may study and have all the information in the world—even the right information—but this does not mean that we are going to be capable of accepting the truth. In other words, the acquisition of knowledge and understanding is meaningless without the power of God to trade your will for his. Pray that God will open your eyes to see and accept the truth.

2. Recognize your bias

From a human standpoint, you are already biased and you need to realize this. Your history, experience, culture, and personality are already present. These have bent you in one way or another. You are always going to fight to keep your bent as it is the place where you feel the most comfort. As my seminary professor John Hannah used to say (tongue-in-cheek), “I am going to teach you many wonderful things about theology and history. However, that does not matter since you are just going to believe what mommy and daddy taught you anyway.” As well, you have “preunderstandings” that effect your views. Previous commitments will cause you to interpret the data through an already constructed lens. The goal is not to get rid of all bias (as this is impossible), but to evaluate information with an understanding that these things exist and are affecting your judgment. It will temper you and allow you to approach things with more integrity.

3. Get a broad overview of the topic

Don’t get into the particulars of the issue yet. You must first get a broad overview of the topic at hand. This is looking at the forest before the trees and is absolutely essential to thoroughly cover before you get into the particulars. Read books and articles that give summaries and overviews, not ones that argue for the particular position. These types of overviews should give you an unbiased look at the spectrum of belief, without arguing for any particular position. Theoretically, theological dictionaries and encyclopedias should be able to do this.  Cover this well. You cannot spend too much time getting a basic familiarity with the topic.

Resources:

Logos Bible Software has many resources for this

Evangelical Dictionary of Theology

New Dictionary of Theology

(Note: This is not “biblical” theologies such as A Theological Dictionary of the New Testament)

4. Study the history of the issue

This is a crucial step that focuses a bit, but not too far yet. Here you will look at the issue through the lens of history. The goal here is to broaden your perspective and draw upon the historic body of Christ. This will prevent you from “reinventing the wheel” in your studies. We stand on the shoulders of giants. This step encourages you to step down off their shoulders and look at the ladder they have built. This is an issue of submission, respect, and humility. To bypass this step is to fail to draw upon the Spirit’s work in the church for the last two-thousand years and is arrogant.

Resources:

The History of Christian Doctrines (best concise overview)

A Concise History of Doctrine

Our Legacy

The Christian Tradition Vol 1-5 (the most extensive history of doctrine available)

Mosaic of Christian Belief

5. Study the issue “across the spectrum”

Now it is time to begin to get into the various arguments for representative positions.  It is best to see a concise overview of the arguments rather than reading full-length books devoted to one position or another. This type of study will list the pros and cons for each. It is good to keep a set of notes that highlights the arguments. Here you will begin to strategically articulate your own questions about the issue. Take note of the arguments you feel are strong and those that you feel are weak.

Resources:

Across the Spectrum (very concise and a must have)

The Theology Program

Any “across the spectrum” type series such as Zondervan’s “Counterpoints” and B&H’s “Perspectives” series

6. Engage in an interactive theological community

This is one of the great advantages of studying in a world with the internet. You can instantly connect to millions of people who are not part of your immediate community. During your studies so far, you are engaging in the issue in a rather static way. This step causes you to engage real people on every side of every issue. Here, you will devote yourself to asking questions, listening to answers, and integrating your systematic theology in a dynamic way which helps you to shape your understanding as iron sharpens iron. Whether it be an online community forum or emailing a professor, pastor, or theologian about the issue, here you are intent on refinement of your understanding. It is best to engage many people who are different in their beliefs, as well as different from the ones that you are leaning toward. You need to hear answers “from the horse’s mouth.” For example, when preparing The Theology Program over a five-year period, I needed to engage Catholic belief quite a bit. Besides reading books on Roman Catholicism, I was on the Catholic Answers forum for two years, asking questions and making sure I understood things accurately. This community was able to answer questions and give me what they believed to be the best resources for their positions, which was immensely valuable for the next step.

Resources:

Theologica Online Theological Community

Various blogs and communities devoted to particular traditions and position

7. Focus your studies

Now you are prepared to read and study, engaging in the “best-of” for each theological position. Here you will read books and find study materials that are focused on understanding and defending individual positions. For example, if you were studying the issue of predestination, you will be prepared, because of step six, to find and study with those who influence the particular position the most, both historic and contemporary. This, again, is a time to refine and systematize your own thoughts on the subject.

(Sadly, this is the place that most people start. However, they already have their minds made up and only seek to confirm their prejudice by reading onlythose who agree with them. Don’t do this. It lacks integrity and does not honor the Lord. Who is to say where you started was right?)

Resources:

Any book and/or scholars whom you have come to discover is relevant and respected in the area of study.

8. Develop your studies in community

Again, this is the great advantage of doing theology in the twenty-first century. You have a world-wide community and a broad spectrum of engagement available at any time. The best thing to do here is to start a community blog. Begin to articulate your position and open yourself up to the critique of others. Write a blog outlining your position and then ask others to give you feedback. This is not setting yourself up to debate your position, but it is a time to refine your position through articulation. Listen to the feedback of others in order to temper and ratify your thoughts. Lay out all of the reasons for your beliefs on the issue, positive, negative, or neutral. By assuming the possibility of a  ”neutral” position, I am assuming that some issues you will not have a definite stance on. This indecisiveness is often the best position you can take and is taken precisely because you have studied the issue (informed agnosticism). But you still need to articulate the reasons for your neutrality.

Remember, as Francis Bacon said, “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” Write your thoughts.

Resources:

WordPress, Blogspot, and other blog platforms (the only disadvantage here is that your blog can immediately get lost in the millions of blogs that are out there. While you will refine your beliefs through articulation—which is absolutely necessary—you will most likely fail to gain a readership too quickly unless very, very intentional.)

Theologica Community (here, there is a place to start your own blog that will be immediately viewed by many people)

9. Start all over

All the time: It is assumed that you will be engaging in biblical studies (and other primary resource materials) during this entire process. You are not only to be reading the Scriptures continually, but cross-referencing everything you study with relevant passages using a proper model of historical-grammatical interpretation (another post!)

(HT Parchment and Pen)