Spurgeon on Creeds

To say that “a creed comes between a man and his God,” is to suppose that it is not true; for truth, however definitely stated, does not divide the believer from his Lord. So far as I am concerned, that which I believe I am not ashamed to state in the plainest possible language; and the truth I hold I embrace because I believe it to be the mind of God revealed in his infallible Word. How can it divide me from God who revealed it? It is one means of communion with my Lord, that I receive his words as well as himself, and submit my understanding to what I see to be taught by him. Say what he may, I accept it because he says it, and therein pay him the humble worship of my inmost soul. The objection to a creed is a very pleasant way of concealing objection to discipline, and a desire for latitudinarianism. What is wished for is a Union which will, like Noah’s Ark, afford shelter both for the clean and for the unclean, for creeping things and winged fowls.

C.H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 34 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1888), iii.

Book Review: Canon Revisited

Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books

Michael J. Kruger

(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2012, 362pp.)

Dr. Michael J. Kruger currently serves as President and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. His book Canon Revisited (CR) is an excellent work that deserves attention by all Reformed Baptist pastors and theological students. The average reading layman in one of our churches would also richly benefit from this work.

In the Introduction, Kruger highlights the necessity for his work on the canon. The issue he addresses in the book is how the Christian can know that the twenty-seven books that comprise the New Testament are in fact the right books. He rightly understands what is at stake in the discussion of canon: “The question of the canon, therefore, is at the very center of how biblical authority is established” (16). He alerts the reader to several factors that produce continued interest in the question of canon, and then indicates the strategy of the book. Kruger does not attempt to “prove” the truth of the canon that would be persuasive to the skeptic (21). Rather, the focus of the book is accounting for the knowledge of the canon that the church possesses (21). In my estimation, Kruger ably accomplishes his goal and provides a great deal of data that both encourages the reader and enables the reader to engage those who question the canon.

In Part I, Kruger surveys the different approaches to the question of canon in the history of the church. He rightly identifies that a study of canon occurs in a larger context. As he points out in the Introduction,

In particular, too little attention has been given to understanding overarching canonical models that often determine one’s definition of canon in the first place. A canonical model is just a way of describing a particular canonical system, if you will, which includes the broader methodological, epistemological, and yes, even theological frameworks for how canon is understood, and, most importantly, how canon is authenticated. (28)

In chapters 1 and 2, Kruger offers a description and evaluation of the community determined model and the historically determined model. He gives a general description of the community determined approaches to the canon “as something that is, in some sense, established or constituted by the people–either individually or corporately–who have received these books as Scripture” (29-30). Canonicity is not something inherent in the books, but rather it is something imposed on the books by the community. This position leads to the idea that the church determined, rather than recognized, the canonical books. The historically determined models “deny that the Christian community’s reception of the canon is definitive in establishing its authority and instead seek to establish it by critically investigating the historical merits of each of the canonical books.” (67)

Kruger includes the community and history models in his preferred model, but he points out the limits of each if considered in isolation from other considerations.

In chapter 3, Kruger deals with the canon as self-authenticated model. After describing what is and what is not involved in the concept of a self-authenticating model, he then discusses the components of it which include providential exposure of the New Testament books and the attributes of canonicity and the Holy Spirit. The attributes of canonicity that Kruger highlights are the divine qualities intrinsic in the canonical books, corporate reception of the books, and the apostolic origins of the books. He draws some implications and ends the chapter by considering some “potential defeaters” of the self-authenticating model. These potential defeaters are: first, the challenge to divine qualities (i.e., apparent disagreements and/or contradictions between Testament books); second, the challenge to apostolic origins (i.e., a number of New Testament books were not written by apostles); third, the challenge to corporate reception (i.e., there was widespread disagreement in the early church that lasted well into the fourth century and beyond). The remainder of the book explains and defends the self-authenticating model and highlights various inconsistent methods along the way.

In Part 2, chapter 4, Kruger begins his explanation and defense with a consideration of the divine qualities of the canon. He writes: “Of all the attributes of canonicity, the divine qualities of Scripture are the least discussed in modern canonical studies. Most scholars prefer to devote their energies to the corporate reception of the books, or perhaps to their apostolic origins, but attention is rarely given to their divine qualities.” (125)

The gist of the argument is simple: What qualities does the Bible possess which indicate its divine origin and how are these qualities considered with reference to the question of “which books are in the canon?” Appealing to WCF 1:5 (so too 2nd LCF 1:5), Kruger highlights these qualities, such as the beauty and excellency of Scripture, the power and efficacy of Scripture, and the unity and harmony of Scripture. The chapter reinforces the notion that ought to be obvious: one’s theological convictions will certainly factor in to the way one approaches the question of canon.

In chapter 5, Kruger turns his attention to the issue of the apostolic origins of the canon. The chapter is not only excellent in terms of the overarching discussion of canon, but it is a good primer on covenant theology. He sets forth three helpful categories for his discussion: the structural framework for canon is covenant; the rationale for canon is redemption; and the agents of canon are the apostles. Building on the work of Meredith G. Kline’s Structure of Biblical Authority and others, Kruger effectively proves that “the historical-theological matrix of the first century made it the ideal environment out of which a new scriptural deposit could emerge” (193).

In chapters 6-8, Kruger treats the corporate reception of the canon. He considers the emergence of a canonical core in chapter 6, the issue of manuscripts and Christian book production in chapter 7, and problem books and canonical boundaries in chapter 8. His survey of both the biblical data and the apostolic fathers in chapter 6 is extremely helpful in showing that “a number of New Testament writings, largely by virtue of their apostolic connections, were recognized and received as authoritative from a very early time, so that by the middle of the second century there appears to be a “core” of New Testament canon widely recognized by early Christians.” (231)

His discussion of manuscripts and Christian book production in chapter 7 is fascinating. His treatment of 2 Timothy 4:13 is most interesting when he concludes that “one of the most compelling possibilities” is that the notebooks Paul wanted Timothy to deliver to him, “contained (among other things) copies of Paul’s own letters” (253, emphasis his). The chapter furtherer strengthens his conclusion concerning the reception of the canonical books early on in the church. He effectively handles the problem books and canonical boundaries in chapter 8.

The book ends with a very helpful conclusion that summarizes the entire argument. As well, Kruger draws some very helpful implications as a result of the study. In the first place, he notes that there is a great deal of common ground between the various canonical models. He notes: “Canon has an ecclesiological dimension, a historical dimension, and an aesthetic/internal dimension. It is when a single aspect of canon is absolutized at the expense of the others that distortions inevitably arise.” (293)

Secondly, “the decisive issue in canonical studies is one’s ontology of canon” (293). He writes that “the canon is, at its core, a theological issue” (294). He admits that this tenet is unlikely to be welcomed by the broader world of critical scholarship, but as he argues in the book, it is inevitable that one’s theology will affect one’s study of canonicity. The final implication necessarily follows, “Christians have intellectually sufficient grounds for claiming that they know which books belong in the New Testament” (295).

The canon as self-authenticating model he explains and defends provides a full-orbed treatment to the question of canon. As well, it provides a system of checks and balances which serves to protect the integrity of the canon. The book is well written, rigorously argued, stimulating and enjoyable to read, though it does demand careful attention by the reader. Above all, it honors the Scriptures as the God-breathed word. On a practical level, the Bible as the word of God is everything in Christianity. Questions concerning the Scriptures must be treated with care and precision. The question of canon is fundamental and an oft-recurring one. Kruger provides fodder for pastors who deal with questions concerning the canon of Scripture, whether those questions are asked by teenagers in the context of the local church, or atheists who are fundamentally opposed to the concept of canon at all. The self-authenticating model presented in CR will greatly assist the man of God in defending the word of God.

(This review was published in the 2014 Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies and used with permission. For more information about the Journal, go to Reformed Baptist Academic Press at www.rbap.net.)

Documentary on C.H. Spurgeon

There is an excellent new documentary on Charles Haddon Spurgeon. From the website —

The lives of millions of Christians around the world have been changed through the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. But how much do those of us who esteem him so highly really know about Charles Spurgeon, the man?

What were the events that shaped his life and made him the man who would be known as the Prince of Preachers? Through the Eyes of Spurgeon invites you to explore with us where and how Spurgeon lived, to follow his steps, to embrace the legacy he has left us.

Join us in seeing the world of Charles Spurgeon through his eyes.

The documentary can be viewed at http://www.throughtheeyesofspurgeon.com/

Enjoy.

 

Thomas Brooks on Truth

“Ah souls, have you not found truth sweetening your spirits, and cheering your spirits, and warming your spirits, and raising your spirits, and corroborating your spirits?  Have not you found truth a guide to lead you, a staff to uphold you, a cordial to strengthen you, and a plaster to heal you?  And will you not hold fast the truth?  Has not truth been your best friend in your worst days?  Has not truth stood by you when friends have forsaken you?  Has not truth done more for you than all the world could do against you, and will you not hold fast the truth?  Is not truth your right eye, without which you cannot see for Christ?  And your right hand, without which you cannot do for Christ?  And your right foot, without which you cannot walk with Christ?  And will you not hold fast the truth?  Oh!  Hold fast the truth in your judgments and understandings, in your wills and affections, in your profession and conversation…You were better let go anything than truth; you were better let go your honors and riches, your friends and pleasures, and the world’s favors; yea, your nearest and dearest relations, yes, your very lives, than to let go truth.  Oh, keep the truth, and truth will make you safe and happy forever.  Blessed are those souls that are kept by truth.”  (Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 1:59,60)

Did Hosea Really Marry a Harlot?

There are three main interpretative approaches to Hosea chapters 1-3. The first is the symbolic view which treats the marriage as a symbol or a vision utilized by God to teach Israel lessons about His marriage to them. This view is held by a lot of the older commentators. For instance, John Calvin says, “There is no doubt but that God describes here the favor He promises to the Israelites in a type or a vision: for they are too gross in their notions, who think that the prophet married a woman who had been a harlot.”[1] The commentators who take this position indicate that if Hosea had in fact married a harlot, his ministry would have been undermined.

The second position may be called the proleptic view. The idea here is that Gomer was chaste when Hosea married her and then she engaged in unfaithfulness. This doesn’t really solve the potential problem; it still sets forth a situation where God commands Hosea to marry a woman that He knew would be a harlot.

The third position is the literal view. I believe this is the correct interpretation for several reasons. First, the narrative reads as straightforward history. The LORD commanded Hosea, “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry” (1:2a). The prophet then went and married Gomer the daughter of Diblaim and she bore him a son (v. 3). She conceived again and bore him a daughter (1:6) and “when she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son” (1:8). Secondly, the “children of harlotry” spoken of in 1:2a were more than likely the children born to Gomer prior to her marriage with Hosea. The three children referenced in 1:3-9 are best understood as children born to Hosea and Gomer, and thus they would not have been children of harlotry. Verse 3 makes clear that Jezreel was a son born to Hosea. We have no reason from the text to suppose otherwise concerning Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi. Thirdly, the woman Hosea marries according to 1:2 is “a wife of harlotry” and the same woman he is called to recover in 3:1 is guilty of adultery.[2] Hosea married Gomer who had been guilty of harlotry. He had three children with her, each of which carried a particular message through their God-determined names to the northern kingdom, and subsequent to this, Gomer engaged in adultery and thus the prophet was commanded to recover her again (3:1-5). Fourthly, the priests of Israel were prohibited from marrying harlots (Lev 21:7, 13-14), but prophets were not subject to the same prohibition according to God’s law. Therefore, it is best to understand that this was in fact a literal marriage between the prophet and Gomer and it was contracted according to the command of God to serve as an acted parable of the LORD’s relationship with Israel.

Why is this literal view significant? In the first place, the reason given by God for Hosea’s marriage to Gomer is stated 1:2b, “For the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD.” McComiskey comments,

The clause ‘because the land has committed great fornication [which has led them] away from the LORD’ (1:2) states the reason for Hosea’s marriage – it was because the people were guilty of spiritual fornication. They might have pointed the finger at Gomer and gossiped about the prophet who married her, but they were no better than she. The marriage of Hosea and Gomer was an eloquent depiction of Yahweh’s marriage to His errant people.[3]

Secondly, though the LORD condemned the conduct of the people of Israel and used the preaching of the prophet to call them to repentance, He also communicated a message of hope concerning the restoration of Israel. In 1:3-9, the names of Hosea’s three children indicate that the northern kingdom would come to an end (1:4), the people would be judged without pity (1:6), and they would be considered not God’s people (1:9). As if anticipating the possible objection, “what about the LORD’s promise to Abraham?” the prophet looks forward to the days of the New Covenant in 1:10-11. The latter half of chapter 2 (vv. 14-23) also looks forward to the New Covenant when the names of the three children would be reversed and the blessing of God would come upon the church.[4]

Finally, the marriage of Hosea and Gomer is probably intended to shock us a bit. The literal view of the marriage may cause a degree of discomfort among New Covenant Christians. We are, after all, supposed to be equally yoked and a godly man should never marry a harlot. While I am certainly not condoning marrying harlots, we should appreciate that this was a unique command given by God in a specific redemptive historical situation. With this necessary qualification given, what is more shocking – Hosea’s marriage to Gomer or God’s marriage to Israel? As faithful as Hosea was, he was still a sinner. For God the LORD to take such a bride demonstrates His grace, mercy, and lovingkindness. The fact that He saves such people IS shocking. The first century Jews were scandalized by God’s redemptive plan (1 Co 1:23); no doubt 8th century B.C. Jews were shocked as are modern readers of this ancient love story. As McComiskey notes,

The prophecy of Hosea is a tapestry of grace. As the prophet loves a woman whose crudeness and brazenness must have hurt him deeply, so God’s grace comes to His people in their unloveliness. Our spiritual condition is never so low that God cannot woo and receive us back to Himself as Hosea received Gomer.[5]

So to answer the question posed in the title of this post, yes, Hosea did marry a harlot. The important thing to remember concerning this incident recorded in Hosea 1-3 is not that Hosea married a harlot, but that God did.



[1] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume XIII (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, re. 1996), 123.

[2] Some posit that there were two different women the prophet was commanded to love. I do not believe this is the case.

[3] Thomas Edward McComiskey, “Hosea,” An Exegetical and Expository Commentary on the Minor Prophets, ed. Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, re. 2006), 1:16.

[4] See Paul’s use of this passage in Ro 9:25-26. Cf. 1 Pe 2:10 also.

[5] Thomas Edward McComiskey, “Hosea,” An Exegetical and Expository Commentary on the Minor Prophets, ed. Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, re. 2006), 1:17.