American evangelicals tend to dislike tradition. Perhaps this is due to the individualism of American culture or a response to the excessive trust Catholicism places in tradition. Whatever the reason, evangelicals tend to be soured towards tradition even though evangelicals hold many traditions themselves.
Every believer inherits conclusions about the meaning and application of Scripture from other believers. These conclusions are expressed in distinctive collections of beliefs and practices know as a traditions (e.g. evangelical, reformed, covenant, dispensational). Theologians cannot entirely separate their personal theological studies from their communities’ doctrinal positions. Moises Silva writes,
“The old advice that biblical students should try as much as possible to approach a text without a prior idea as to what it means (and that therefore commentaries should be read after, not before, the exegesis) does have the advantage of encouraging independent thinking; besides, it reminds us that our primary aim is indeed to discover the historical meaning and that we are always in danger of imposing our meaning on the text. Nevertheless, the advice is fundamentally flawed, because it is untrue to the very process of learning. I would suggest rather that a student who comes to a biblical passage with, say, a dispensationalist background, should attempt to make sense of the text assuming that dispensationalism is correct. I would go so far as to say that, upon encountering a detail that does not seem to fit the dispensationalist scheme, the student should try to “make it fit.” The purpose, of course, is not to mishandle the text, but to become self-conscious about what we all do anyway. The result should be increased sensitivity to those features of the text that disturb our interpretive framework and thus a greater readiness to modify that framework” (“Systematic Theology and the Apostle to the Gentiles,” Trinity Journal, new series 15 [Spring 1994]:26).
Tradition plays a key role in communicating doctrine from one believer to another. Christians are commanded to gather together and exhort one another (Heb 10:25). God uses tradition to perpetuate correct doctrine (2 Thes 3:6). However, since all tradition is human in origin, it will never escape the effects of the fall. We cannot assume that our beliefs and practices are correct just because we love and respect those who hold those positions. Of course, theological study must begin somewhere, and theologians will naturally assume their beliefs are correct anyway. Thus theologians ought to treat their communities’ traditions as provisionally correct and constantly critique their theological assumptions with Scripture.
Leon Morris begins his commentary on John with the statement, “I like the comparison of John’s Gospel to a pool in which a child may wade and an elephant can swim. It is both simple and profound” (NICNT, p. 3).
Similar quotations introduce many commentaries and sermon series on John’s gospel. The illustration draws a wonderful word picture and has been used for over fourteen hundred years.
The quotation dates back to Gregory the Great (AD 540-604) and his commentary on Job. Gregory writes, “Scripture is like a river again, broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim” (Moralia 4). It is sometimes mistakenly attributed to John Owen, who uses the quotation in his commentary on Hebrews (Works 20:165). Augustine is also sometimes cited as the source of this quotation, apparently due to an editorial footnote in Hutchings’ translation of Augustine’s Confessions (1883, p. 136). Some claim the quotation goes back as far as Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215), but I have never seen this documented. More often than not, the elephants swimming quote is cited as being anonymous, but we can be pretty sure that Gregory the Great is where it first originated.
If you are ever looking for a good illustration to begin a sermon series, I would suggest you consider talking about children wading where elephants swim. The illustration is most often used to introduce John’s gospel for some reason, but it would be applicable to any exegetical book study. It helps to start a difficult study off on a encouraging note.
Christians tend to over-correct for the sin of their cultures. When confronted with error, Christians often counter with a 180-degree response. Entire entertainment media are labeled sinful. Liberal social agendas are condemned in whole. Fields such as science, psychology, and even sometimes medicine are rejected as having no value for the Christian. Truth becomes defined as the opposite of error.
Unfortunately, sin rarely appears in it purest form. The most dangerous errors are those which contain large amounts of truth. Christians who take stands in reaction to error often embrace error in the process. Ron Horton put it this way,
“Responses to error can go awry because of counterrelational thinking. The earnest Christian, intent on taking a stand against a dangerous belief or practice, stakes out his position directly opposite the error, forgetting that error is not always 180 degrees from the truth. Error may lie 90 degrees off the truth or even be sitting on truth’s borders. If truth, let us say, is north by the compass, error is not always due south. Error may be east or west, even northwest, and even in not so rare instances northnorthwest. Instead of forming his position directly from Scripture, the zealous contender takes his bearings from the error, distorting the position he means to defend” (“A Balanced Response to Error,” Voice of the Alumni 77.5 :6).
Horton concludes, “To be aligned with truth, our positions…must be formed naturally from Scripture, not counterrelationally to the error we mean to combat” (7). Christians must take positive stands for the Bible’s teaching, not reactionary stands against the world.
God promises, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” ( 2 Cor 12:9). God will give you all the grace you need for today. However, Jesus also told his disciples, “Do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt 6:34).
God will give you all the grace you need to do what must be done today. The weaker you become, the more God will increase your grace. We can have Paul’s confidence that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).
When we are weak, however, we still feel weak. Our problems stretch on throughout the foreseeable future with no end in sight. We must remember that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:22-23), but we only have enough for today. Don’t worry about tomorrow; you have enough to do today. Trust God even when you’re falling apart, and your spirit will be renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16).
I’m a big fan of audio books and especially audio Bibles. While an audio Bible will not allow you to easily read a passage over and over to meditate on it, the audio format will allow you to hear the book as a whole and grasp the big picture.
There are two downsides to Amazon’s free version. First, it is dramatized with somewhat annoying electronically generated music in the background. Second, the reading talent isn’t quite on par with what you would expect from professional audiobooks. However, since it’s free, you really can’t beat the price, and if the shortcomings of this version get on your nerves, you can always go out and buy something better.
My wife and I are using Rand Hummel’s Five Smooth Stones Scripture Memory Plan in our family devotions. The plan proceeds alphabetically through common sin problems and includes five verses for each topic. The first verse on the subject of bitterness was Hebrews 12:15.
“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15 KJV)
This verse is a very popular text for sermons about bitterness, and I’m not surprised to see it topping Hummel’s memorization list on this issue. Unfortunately, this verse is not talking about an emotional state of bitterness at all. The “root of bitterness” here is an allusion to Deuteronomy 29:18.
“Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit” (Deuteronomy 29:18 ESV)
Hebrews 12:15 is a warning passage to professing Christians that one’s salvation is not a product of the company one keeps. In any Christian assembly, it is possible for there to be some present who have not genuinely believed the gospel. Professing Christians should examine themselves and exhort one another lest anyone fail to benefit from grace of God. While Christians should not be bitter, the “bitter root” in Hebrews 12:15 is an OT allusion supporting the warning against falling away, not a warning about emotional bitterness.
To Rand Hummel’s credit, his second verse on bitterness is dead on. Ephesians 4:31 says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.” The inclusion of Hebrews 12:15 exposes a slight problem in Hummel’s approach. The Bible simply doesn’t give us 5+ commands on every important issue for us to obey. Hummel seems a bit stretched on the issue of bitterness. The other three verses are Eph 4:32, Eph 4:26 (which was included in the previous topic of anger), and 1 Peter 2:1-2. When “bitterness” appears as an emotional state in the Bible, the term is usually employed in descriptions of unbelievers. However, the verses Hummel selects are all worthy of memorization (including Hebrews 12:15), and we will continue using this helpful resource despite this minor hiccup.
The University of Münster Institute for New Testament Textual Research hosts one of the best online resources for New Testament scholars. Their Virtual Manuscript Room has an amazing digital image collection of New Testament Manuscripts. Not only are the images well cataloged, they have also been transcribed to facilitate reading/comparison.
While you can find slightly higher resolution scans of several manuscripts elsewhere (e.g. APIS for P46), the VMR is the place to go if you want them all in one place and accessible in a user-friendly format.
This short video shows some astounding views of marine animals including a color-shifting cuttlefish, a perfectly camouflaged octopus, and neon light displays from fish who live in the blackest depths of the ocean.
Bill Nye the science guy recently went on record in a YouTube video saying, “Your world just becomes fantastically complicated when you don’t believe in evolution…. If you try to ignore that, your world view just becomes crazy, just untenable, itself inconsistent.”
Nye has joined a growing chorus of atheists arguing that parents who teach creationism to their children are practicing a form of child abuse. Answers in Genesis has put together a detailed response to Bill Nye’s assertions.
Bill Nye forgets how “fantastically complicated” the world gets when you do believe in evolution. Take another look at footage above. Could that really have come about by chance? If so, it must have been a fantastically complicated series of events. One has to admit that Occam’s razor favors believing the world to be the fantastically complex creation of an infinite God.
ICR has been a long-time advocate for taking the Genesis 1-2 creation account to mean that God created the world in six literal twenty-four hour days and the Genesis 6-8 narrative as referring to a worldwide flood.
In case you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, Michael Phelps is now the most decorated athlete in Olympic history. His athletic accomplishments are truly amazing … and ultimately forgettable.
Phelps accomplishments were even more stunning in Beijing, but until this year’s Olympics rolled around, I hadn’t thought about him at all for four years (apparently I missed the news coverage of several of his indiscretions). After the close of this year’s Olympics, I’m fairly sure his feats won’t cross my mind until NBC airs a flashback during their Olympic coverage four years from now. These reminders will eventually cease as swimmer after swimmer slowly erase Phelps record times and some new prodigy wins just a few more metals. Who remembered Larisa Latynina before Phelps unseated her as the most decorated athlete of all time? Records are made to be broken and forgotten.
Let’s all applaud Michael Phelps for his incredible accomplishments in the water. However, we should also remember that everyone will soon forget the amazing Michael Phelps. As we each seek our much smaller bits of acclaim, remember that we too will be forgotten. Only the applause of God can echo for eternity.