The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, January 17, 2020

Memories and Bible Versions


Nostalgically Hopping Down the Rabbit Trails of Days Long Gone in Search of the Text of the New Testament

I entered Providence College, formerly Winnipeg Bible College, now Providence University College, in Otterburne, Manitoba, where young Christians from all over the province, the Dominion, and even abroad assembled to learn about the Bible, theology, Church history, missiology and other subjects in between episodes of The Simpsons and foosball games in the fall of 1994. At the time, a new translation/paraphrase of the Bible named The Message was all the rage, although only the New Testament was then available, having been released the previous year. The Message was the work of the late Dr. Eugene H. Peterson, a former Presbyterian pastor from the United States who, just prior to the release of the first installment of his paraphrase, had become Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College, in Vancouver, British Columbia. While a lot of my fellow students – and more than one of the professors – were raving about The Message, I was less than impressed.

What were my objections to The Message?

First, here is how Peterson rendered the most beloved verse in all of Holy Scripture:

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. (John 3:16)

There are a lot of things I could pick at in this but I will merely point out the most glaring problem – “a whole and lasting life” is considerably less than what this verse promises to all who believe in Jesus Christ in both the original Greek, and all accurate translations, namely “everlasting life.”

Second, here is Peterson’s rendition of John 1:12:

But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.

The wording “made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves”, which caters to the contemporary cult of the self, makes my skin crawl every time I read it. I had read Dave Hunt’s The Seduction of Christianity shortly before I encountered this paraphrase which is a book that does an excellent job of exposing the inroads this cult, among other popular but anti-Christian fads, has made into churches that profess Christianity.

My third objection was stylistic, that by his excessive use of hyphenation, Peterson had invented an artificial way of speaking that nobody actually uses, thus defeating the entire purpose of a paraphrase.

In my sophomore year, Jesse Carlson, the editor of the student newspaper, asked me to contribute. I should point out that while Jesse, who is now Assistant Professor of Sociology at Acadia University, by encouraging me to take up writing, undoubtedly set me on the path that led to the forming of this website, he is by no means to be blamed for the opinions expressed here. One of my first contributions – I think it was my very first, but I am not 100% certain on this point – was a piece in which I made the above criticisms of The Message. Needless to say, when this article appeared it received mixed feedback. No specific example of a negative response stands out in my memory, but one example of positive feedback does. Travis Trost, either in the old library or in the hot tub in the basement of Bergen Hall, the men’s residence which was lamentably lost in flame two and a half years ago, congratulated me on the article and suggested that I tackle the NIV next. The New International Version, which by this point in time was just under twenty years old and had undergone its first revision about a decade previously, had already become the translation of choice for the majority of churches that identified as evangelical. I had already started to study New Testament Greek and by the time we have moved on from Dr. Larry Dixon’s first year class into Dr. David Johnson's second year course the members of my class, between calling each other friendly names such as ὁ πονηρός κύριος τοῦ Θᾰνᾰ́του (the evil lord of death), had learned enough Greek to form what was pretty much a universal consensus that the NIV just wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. I regret not have followed up on Travis’ suggestion.

Perhaps you are wondering what has inspired all of this reminiscing. In a recent blog entry, Dr. Robert N. Wilkin, the executive director of the Grace Evangelical Society, responded to an article from the December 27, 2019 issue of The Sword of the Lord by Dr. Shelton Smith, the editor of the fundamentalist newspaper, on the subject of Bible versions. Dr. Wilkin in this post expresses both agreement and disagreement with Dr. Smith. Their disagreements amount to a sort of "in house" disagreement between people who are basically on the same side in the fundamental theological controversy that lies beneath the surface controversy with regards to translations. I will have more to say on that and will also have a few things to say about Dr. Wilkin's post a bit later, but I mention it here because it was reading his post that sent me on this trip down memory lane which we shall now resume.

The mid 1990s was a time in which the Bible versions controversy was raging hot. This was in part due to the publication of Gail A. Riplinger’s book New Age Bible Versions in 1993. This was hardly the first book to issue a wholesale condemnation of the newer translations, nor was it anywhere close to being the best book supporting the Authorized Version against the newer versions that was available on the market, but it attracted a lot of attention because of its rather novel approach of treating the modern versions as part of a massive conspiracy aimed at uniting the religions of the world under the aegis of the New Age movement. Lest you think that is exaggerated here is the second sentence of her introduction:

Much digging in libraries and manuscripts from around the world has uncovered an alliance between the new versions of the bible (NIV, NASB, Living Bible and others) and the chief conspirators in the New Age movement's push for a One World Religion.

Also unlike previous critiques of the modern versions, Riplinger tied hers to prophecies of end times apostasy, and released it in the decade when we were counting down, not just the end of a century, but of a millennium when contemplation and speculation regarding the Second Coming was at a predictable high. Also, Christians had finally begun to sound the alarm about the increasing inroads that Eastern paganism, in the form of the New Age movement, were making into Western societies, and even the Christian churches. Russian Orthodox hieromonk Fr. Seraphim Rose had been ahead of the game on this with his Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, which came out in 1975 and also linked the New Age phenomenon with prophecies of the Antichrist’s final deception. Constance Cumbey’s The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow: The New Age Movement and Our Coming Age of Barbarism had followed about eight years after that. Dave Hunt’s aforementioned book, co-authored with T. A. MacMahon, came out two years after that. Two years later Texe Marrs, a retired United States Air Force officer who had taught at the University of Texas and authored a number of books on robotics before entering his final career as a celebrity Christian author, conspiracy theorist, and radio host, released his Dark Secrets of the New Age: Satan’s Plan for a One World Religion. Riplinger’s book was released at just the right moment to ensure that it would become a sensational best-seller.

It is worth pointing out that of the authors mentioned in the previous paragraph only one actually endorsed Riplinger's book. That was Texe Marrs who promoted it quite heavily on his radio show and in his newsletter. Marrs, who passed away a little under two months ago, I met in my very first month at Providence. He came to Winnipeg to speak at an annual conference held every fall on the subject of Bible prophecy. At the time the conference was located at Calvary Temple, the large downtown Pentecostal Assemblies church which was then still pastored by the legendary local preacher H. H. Barber. At this point in time Marrs' most recent book was Big Sister is Watching You, which is still, in my opinion, the best book about Hilary Clinton ever written. I went to hear him speak and, after one of his talks, spent the next session discussing all sorts of issues with him. Marrs was never invited back to the conference, which probably had something to do with the fact that it grew increasingly more Zionist whereas he shortly thereafter became increasingly anti-Zionist. While I am down this rabbit trail I will also mention that another of the authors from the previous paragraph, Dave Hunt of the Berean Call who passed away seven years ago, was a perennial favourite at these conferences where I got to hear him and speak with him several times over the years.

The modern Bible versions controversy did not begin with Riplinger, of course. It started in the Church of England in the 1880s and was revived in evangelical and fundamentalist circles within the non-conformist and dissenting Protestant sects in the 1950s. It is not without antecedents surrounding earlier translations of the Scriptures much further back in Church history. It is a complex controversy. Several different factors must be taken into consideration when weighing the merits of a translation, such as the degree of accuracy with which it represents the original meaning and the comprehensibility and beauty of its language. My criticism of The Message is based upon these factors. In the larger Bible versions controversy, however, these factors have taken a backseat to the question of the text that is to be translated. This is as it should be because this question has to be settled before any of these other factors can be considered. It also has ramifications for theological orthodoxy.

By the question of text I mean the question of what words comprise the text that is to be translated. The reason this is an issue is because the Holy Scriptures are thousands of years old, the last book in the New Testament canon having been written in the first century AD, and until the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, they had to be copied by hand. Which means that the first step in preparing a printed edition of the Greek New Testament is to look at the manuscripts (from the Latin manus, hand, and scriptus-a-um, past perfect participle of scribo, write, therefore: hand written copies) and decide, in places where they disagree, which was the original and which the copyist’s error. The Dutch Christian humanist Desiderius Erasmus was the first to do this. His edition of the Greek New Testament was printed by Johann Froben in 1516, and went through four subsequent revisions prior to Erasmus’ death in 1536, after which a French scholar-printer called Stephanus and Theodore Beza, John Calvin's right hand, would carry on his work in several further sixteenth century editions. These were the Greek New Testaments that were the basis of Dr. Martin Luther’s original German Bible in 1522. In England, William Tyndale produced an English translation in 1526 based on this same Greek text. Tyndale’s translation underwent several revisions over the course of a century, including such official Church of England revisions as the Great Bible (1539) and Bishop’s Bible (1568, 1572), as well as the Puritan Geneva Bible (1557, 1560). The process of revising Tyndale came to its culmination with the production of the official Church of England translation, authorized by King James VI of Scotland and I of England at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 and completed by the 47 scholars appointed to the task in 1611. All of the Bibles in this tradition from Tyndale to the Authorized Bible, were based upon Erasmus’ Greek New Testament.

The Authorized Bible became the official Bible of the Church of England and for two and a half centuries was the de facto “official Bible” of all of English-speaking Christendom, including the non-conformists and dissenters. It underwent several revisions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, mostly stylistic as the English language became much more standardized. The last such revision took place in 1769 and most Bibles printed as “King James Version” or “Authorized Version” are based upon this revision. In 1870, the Church of England commissioned a further such revision. What they ended up getting, however, was something rather different, and this gave birth to the controversy.

When the New Testament of the Revised Version came out in 1881 it was evident that it was based upon a different Greek text than the earlier English translations. An edition of the Greek Text used by the revisers was prepared by Edwin Palmer, Archdeacon of Oxford. The same year another edition of the Greek New Testament appeared, edited by Brooke Foss Westcott, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, later consecrated Bishop of Durham, and Fenton John Anthony Hort, Hulsean Professor of Divinity, also at Cambridge, both of whom had been on the translation committee of the Revision. The Westcott-Hort text departed from the text underlying the Authorized Bible in the same direction but going even further than the text underlying the Revised Version. Westcott and Hort also published their principles of textual criticism. The Revised Version, Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament, and the Westcott and Hort theory of textual criticism, were all then torn apart by the Dean of Chichester Cathedral, John William Burgon, an Oxford man, who had studied at Worcester, been elected a fellow of Oriel, and prior to his posting at Chichester had served as vicar at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the same church that John Henry Newman had pastored prior to his “crossing the Tiber.”

Dean Burgon had a well-established reputation as a champion of Anglican orthodoxy. His Inspiration and Interpretation: Seven Sermons Affirming the Unique Nature of the Bible and Its Own Method of Interpretation had come out twenty years before the Revised Version. These sermons, which he had given before Oxford University, were an answer to the sadly influential Essays and Reviews that had appeared a year prior to his rebuttal and which promoted the ideas of German so-called “higher criticism.” Burgon was one of a number of prominent Orthodox Churchmen – the Right Reverend Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford and third son of the famous abolitionist and the Reverend Christopher Wordsworth, later to become the Right Reverend Bishop of Lincoln and nephew of the famous poet were among the others – who sounded the alarm against the perversion and dilution of the faith with rationalistic notions derived from presuppositions based on materialistic unbelief, taking up the scholarly cudgels on behalf of Anglican orthodoxy that had been wielded by Bishop George Bull and Dr. Daniel Waterland a century before them. Unfortunately, valiant as their efforts were, they were hampered by the legacy of the century long prorogation of Convocation – the Church of England’s General Synod – that began in order to protect Benjamin Hoadley, Bishop of Bangor from censure over his heretical views and was a direct consequence of the triumph of the Whiggish concept of Parliamentary supremacy in 1688. Royalism is the only form of politics consistent with Christian orthodoxy. Water it down, and you get a watered down Christianity with a watered down orthodoxy.

Ten years before the Revised Version Burgon had published his The Last Twelve Verses of Mark Vindicated Against Recent Critical Objectors and Established arguing for the authenticity of these verses which are one of the two largest passages in dispute, the other being the Pericope de Adultera (John 7:53-8:11). He wrote a series of devastating critiques of the Revised Version for the nineteenth century Tory journal Quarterly Review which were collected and published as The Revision Revised. He devoted much of the last years of his life to work on a magnus opus explaining the principles of textual criticism that he saw as being consistent with orthodoxy. Incomplete at his death, his manuscript was edited by Edward Miller and published posthumously in two volumes as The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels Vindicated and Established and The Causes of Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels. Edward Miller also took charge of Burgon’s huge contribution to the fieldwork of textual criticism, his voluminous catalogue and collation of Scriptural citations in the Patristic writings – which included almost 90 000 by the time of the Dean’s death - and made use of them in his own A Guide to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (1886), showing that contrary to Hort’s assertions, pre-Chrysostom Patristic testimony favours the Byzantine text type by a ratio of about 3 to 2 which drastically increases if you narrow the field to the earliest Fathers. Herman C. Hoskier also built upon Burgon’s foundation in his 2 volume Codex B and Its Allies, a Study and Indictment (1914) which completely debunked, for anyone who could be bothered to read it, the idea that Vaticanus is anywhere close to being “the best manuscript.”

So the line was drawn between the “Critical School” and the “Traditional School”. To understand the distinction it is important to know that among the 5000 plus manuscripts extant, the variant readings which affect approximately two to five per cent of the text, the remainder being beyond dispute are associated in such a way that textual scholars have classified the manuscripts into families according to text type, although within the representatives of each family there are internal variations. The most important of these families are the Alexandrian, Byzantine, and Western. The Alexandrian family contains manuscripts from the second to fourth centuries and derives its name from the fact that these mostly came from Egypt where it appears to have been the dominant text type in that era. The Byzantine family contains between eighty to ninety percent of all the manuscripts and derives its name from its being unquestionably the dominant text type in the Greek speaking Church of the Byzantine Empire. The Western text type contains a few old manuscripts which influenced a number of the pre-Vulgate Latin translations.

The Critical School has produced several theories of criticism but has consistently been characterized by its underlying belief that the most accurate text of the New Testament is to be reconstructed in accordance with “scientific” principles that are independent of whatever faith and doctrine, orthodox or heretical, might be held by the textual critic. It began with Westcott and Hort, although the preliminary groundwork was laid for it by Karl Lachmann, Johann Jakob Griesbach, Constantin von Tischendorf, Samuel P. Tragelles and Henry Alford. Most of the leading textual scholars since Westcott and Hort – Eberhard and Erwin Nestle, Baron Hermann von Soden, Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, Kurt and Barbara Aland, Kirsopp Lake, E. C. Colwell, G. D. Kilpatrick, Günther Zuntz, Eldon Jay Epp, and Bruce M. Metzger to name but a few – have belonged to the Critical School. Their theories have evolved considerably over a century and a half. In Westcott and Hort’s day the predominant theory of this School could be summarized – over simplistically but not inaccurately – as “the oldest manuscripts have the best readings.” Note that Hort, the principal author of the Westcott-Hort Theory, argued for the existence of a “neutral text” to be found in Codex Aleph (Sinaiticus) and especially Codex B (Vaticanus), the two oldest (almost) complete uncial vellum parchments. After Hort, the Critical School abandoned the idea that these manuscripts were neutral as distinct from Alexandrian. Indeed, many of the post-Hort members of the Critical School named above devoted a great deal of space in their writings to debunking Hort’s theories. More recently they have favoured various forms of eclecticism, which can be summarized – again simplistically but not inaccurately – as the idea that the readings should be selected, not on the basis of their text family, but upon which is the best in accordance with “internal evidence”, which, if you think about it, is far worse than the theory they started out with as it essentially makes the critic's personal judgement authoritative. In practice, however, despite their abandoning of his theories they have largely retained Hort’s prejudice against the Byzantine family of manuscripts and for the Alexandrian.

The Traditional School, by contrast, starts with the orthodox belief that the Scriptures are the written Word of God, inspired not just in the sense that all great literature can be said to be “inspired” but in the sense that the words were “breathed out by God”, and thus inerrant, infallible and authoritative. The same God Who inspired the Bible, undertakes to preserve His Word, and the preserved text of His Word is that which has been in use throughout His Church where it has been read, taught, studied and sung for two thousand years. It, therefore, favours the Byzantine family.

If it is not already evident, I very much side with the Traditional School. There are several different variants of the Traditional School, which I will discuss briefly in a moment. First, I will say that I became persuaded of the Traditional School’s perspective before I had ever heard of let alone laid eyes on Riplinger’s book. The arguments that first persuaded me are those that Zane C. Hodges’ laid out in an article entitled “The Greek Text of the King James Version” that had appeared in Bibliotheca Sacra in 1968. It was reprinted as the second chapter, if we consider the editor’s “Why This Book?” to be an introduction rather than a chapter, of Which Bible? the first of three anthologies of the most scholarly representatives of the Traditional School that were compiled and edited by Dr. David Otis Fuller and which I had read by the time I completed grade 12. I am sure that is the sort of thing you were all reading in high school too.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Zane Clark Hodges, who passed away twelve years ago, although I would have liked to have done so. Hodges was Assistant Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis at Dallas Theological Seminary from 1959 to 1986. When I served at Turtle Mountain Bible Camp in the summer between high school and college, one of the camp speakers, whose name, I regret to say I have forgotten, was a Dallas graduate who could not praise sufficiently his favourite professor, Zane Hodges for his thorough learning. I needed little convincing on the subject, which, if I remember correctly, came up because I was reading one of Hodges’ books. When, about a decade later I lent a copy of another of his books to the late Bill McNairn, he also concurred, making the remark that “Hodges is no slouch.” Hodges has been accused of Antinomianism by Nestorians who appear to have no problem with the implicit Sabellianism in the Incarnational Sonship heresy (which denies the Eternal Sonship of Christ as affirmed in the Nicene Creed) when taught by those who deny the efficacy of the blood of the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, because he strongly affirmed and defended the view of faith/assurance taught by Dr. Martin Luther (and which has been upheld faithfully, at least in the Missouri Synod, by such Lutherans as John M. Drickamer, Herman Otten, Kurt Marquart, Robert Preuss, and Francis Pieper), the Reformed doctrine of uninterrupted perpetual justification, and the Catholic view of repentance (i.e. that it follows the new birth as the avenue to forgiveness and within-covenant reconciliation and thus is characteristic of the entire new life experience of struggle with sin in the flesh rather than being a one-time decision at the beginning of the new life) but it has been my experience that when someone accuses someone else of Antinomianism, 99.99% of the time it is because he himself is a Legalist.

In the article mentioned above, Hodges addressed the three main arguments from the Critical School against the Majority Text – that it does not have the support of the oldest manuscripts available, that its dominance of the later manuscripts can be explained by its being the product of an official recension or revision of the text conflating the readings in earlier text types, and that its readings are intrinsically inferior to those of the other text types. He provided reasons for regarding each of these arguments with suspicion – for example, against the “oldest manuscripts” argument he observes that these “derive basically from Egypt”, the climate of which “favors the preservation of ancient texts in a way that the climate of the rest of the Mediterranean world does not” and that thus these manuscripts can really only tell us what the text looked like in Egypt in the second to fourth centuries, not what it looked like in other provinces of the Church. In his concluding remarks, after addressing these arguments, Hodges wrote the following:

The present writer would like to suggest that the impasse to which we are driven when the arguments of modern criticism are carefully weighed and sifted is due almost wholly to a refusal to acknowledge the obvious. The manuscript tradition of an ancient book will, under any but the most exceptional conditions, multiply in a reasonably regular fashion with the result that the copies nearest the autograph will normally have the largest number of descendants. The further removed in the history of transmission a text becomes from its source the less time it has to leave behind a large family of offspring. Hence, in a large tradition where a pronounced unity is observed between, let us say, eighty per cent of the evidence, a very strong presumption is raised that this numerical preponderance is due to direct derivation from the very oldest sources. In the absence of any convincing contrary explanation, this presumption is raised to a very high level of probability indeed. Thus the Majority text, upon which the King James Version is based, has in reality the strongest claim possible to be regarded as an authentic representation of the original text.

This is the argument which initially convinced me and I am even more firmly persuaded of it today. Consider the question of what happened to the original autographs of the New Testament. I do not mean what ultimately happened to them – that they are no longer extent everyone agrees. I mean the question of where they were originally sent.

The New Testament itself – regardless of which text type you use – tells us the answer to this, for the most part. The second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation contain letters to the “angels” – understood since ancient times to be referring to the local bishops – of seven Churches in Asia Minor. Since the Apostle John himself based his late ministry out of Ephesus and consecrated his disciple Polycarp as bishop of Smyrna – two of the seven Churches – it stands to reason that the autographs of the entire corpus of Johannine literature ended up in Asia Minor, i.e., Anatolia in present day Turkey. As for the Pauline literature – obviously the autographs of the two epistles to the Corinthians were sent to Corinth in the Peloponnesus, that of the epistle to the Philippians to the city named after Philip of Macedon in the Thracian region of Greece at pretty much the northernmost part of the Aegean Sea, the two epistles to the Thessalonians were sent to the Macedonian city of Thessalonika, those of the epistles to the Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians were sent to Asia Minor as was the epistle to Philemon, who lived in Colossae and the two epistles to Timothy, who was bishop of Ephesus. The epistle to Titus was sent to Crete, where its addressee was bishop. Romans was the only signed Pauline epistle that was not sent to somewhere in Greece or Turkey and it obviously went to Italy.

There is a general consensus that except for Romans, all of the autographs, even of books which don’t internally identify their original destination, were sent to either Asia Minor or Syria, that is to say, the first two regions outside of the Holy Land into which the Church had expanded.

My point, if it is not clear by now, is that none of the autographs of the New Testament were sent to Egypt. The vast majority of them were sent to the same region from which the majority of post fourth century manuscripts come and from which the term Byzantine for the text type found in these manuscripts is derived. The remainder, with one exception, were sent to Syria, the other region most associated with the Byzantine text type for which reason Hort designated it the “Syrian” text. If, therefore, the autographs were sent to Syria and the Greek-speaking regions of south-eastern Europe, and over 80% of manuscripts, most of which come from these regions contain a particular text type which is also witnessed to by manuscripts and versions from throughout the Christian world, then surely the most reasonable conclusion if it is not the only reasonable conclusion is that the text of the autographs was faithfully transmitted in the Byzantine family and the alternative text type that is found in a much smaller number of very old manuscripts, virtually all from Egypt, is a regional variation that departed from the text of the autographs at a very early point in the transmission of the text, perhaps when it first arrived in Egypt.

What I have just presented you with is an argument for the Traditional or Byzantine Text that can be made based upon evidence and logical reasoning. It is, I believe, sounder reasoning and a sounder interpretation of the evidence, than what the Critical School has to offer. Since Burgon, there has never been a lack of scholars willing to argue this case, although they have been in the minority. The article by Zane Hodges that I referred to earlier was but one of many from his pen that appeared in places such as Bibliotheca Sacra and the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society in the 1960s and 1970s, and in 1982 an edition of the Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text that he had worked on with Dr. Arthur L. Farstad, who was also the Executive Editor of the committee of translators for the New King James Version was released. Like the Textus Receptus, i.e., the sixteenth century editions of the Greek New Testament edited by Erasmus, Stephanus and Beza, and unlike the Westcott-Hort, Nestle, Nestle-Aland, UBS and other critical editions, this is based upon the Traditional Text, in this case following the majority reading principle. In 1975, Dr. Jakob van Bruggen the Professor of New Testament at the Dutch Reformed Theological University in Broederwig gave a lecture that was published the following year as The Ancient Text of the New Testament which briefly made the case for the Traditional Text. The English edition was published here in Winnipeg by Premier Printing. In 1977, and again in revised edition in 1980, Thomas Nelson published The Identity of the New Testament Text by Wilbur Norman Pickering, expanded from his 1968 Dallas Theological Seminary Master’s Thesis and arguing for the Traditional/Byzantine/Majority Text as best representing the autographs. In 1984 the same publisher released The Byzantine Text Type and New Testament Textual Criticism by Dr. Harry A. Sturz, who had been Chairman of the Greek and Theology Departments at Biola University. This work had begun as Sturz’s doctoral dissertation for Grace Theological Seminary and had been made available to his students at Biola for about twelve years prior to its public release. Sturz did not go so far as to argue that the Traditional Text was the best – what he would call the Byzantine priority position – but he argued from an extensive look at the early papyrii, that the Byzantine readings were at least as old as the rival Alexandrian and Western readings, and thus were not a secondary conflagration derived from the latter text types. More recently the case for the Byzantine Text has been argued by Dr. Maurice A. Robinson of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Robinson is the co-editor with William G. Pierpont of a 2005 edition of the Greek New Testament according to the Byzantine Text and has made the case for the Traditional Text in a 2001 essay entitled “New Testament Textual Criticism: The Case for Byzantine Priority.”

It is not, however, the superiority of its logical interpretation of the manuscript evidence, that the Traditional School rests upon but the fact that its underlying premise is consistent with orthodox Christianity whereas that of the opposing school claims a neutrality that is not in fact available and is thus to that extent inconsistent with orthodox Christianity. If the Bible is the written Word of God, which all orthodox Christians believe, then God did not merely inspire the original autographs, as all orthodox Christians affirm, but has promised to preserve the words so inspired. Nor is God the only supernatural entity with an interest in the transmission of His Word. The very first words, the Enemy of God and man spoke, to deceive our first parents to the ruin of our species were “Yea, hath God said.” Casting doubt on God’s words has been his modus operandi ever since. If God has undertaken to preserve His words, and Satan has been constantly working to hinder men from hearing and believing God’s words, then any approach to the text of Scripture based upon “scientific” principles that treat these facts as irrelevant is guaranteed to go astray and, indeed, to be an instrument of the Enemy.

Orthodox Christians cannot be consistent to their faith and regard the application of supposedly neutral “scientific” principles that are used on other ancient texts to the Holy Scriptures as being valid and reliable. Many, however, fail to recognize that this applies to lower (textual) criticism as much as to higher criticism. Even with regards to the latter, there has been a tendency, since the 1950s, among those orthodox Protestants who in that decade abandoned the label “fundamentalist” and rebranded themselves with the older label “evangelical”, to treat its methods, concepts, and conclusions with much more respect than they deserve. The “new evangelicalism” was partly about repudiating schismatism and partly about seeking academic respectability. The former goal was consistent with historical/traditional orthodoxy but the manner in which they pursued the latter goal was not. In the end they failed to achieve the goal and abandoned part of their orthodoxy in the process. The year that I entered Providence, Dr. Mark A. Noll, then of Wheaton College now of the University of Notre Dame, published his The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind which took evangelicalism to task for a lack of academic and scholarly vigor that he attributed to an anti-intellectualism inherited from fundamentalism. The previous year Dr. David F. Wells of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary had made related points in his No Place for Truth, or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology. Both books were published by Eerdmans. Ten years prior to Noll’s book, Dr. Francis Schaeffer had released his last book, The Great Evangelical Disaster, discussing the crisis of orthodoxy in the evangelical movement. Eight years before that Dr. Harold Lindsell had tried to warn evangelicals about the same thing in The Battle for the Bible. These internal critiques of evangelicalism could and probably should have been complementary but the way they handled the matter created a dilemma instead. Has evangelicalism lost its academic respectability by holding on to too much of the fundamentalist rejection of higher criticism or has evangelicalism sacrificed part of its orthodoxy by not holding on to enough of that same rejection?

This is neither here nor there, but anybody who ever took a class with him would remember that the late Dr. Chuck Nichols loved to pose questions like that and answer them with “yes.”

The tension produced by evangelicalism’s efforts to retain orthodoxy while attaining respectability in an academia dominated by the worldview of those who reject the foundational principles of orthodoxy and, indeed, accept foundational principles of their own that are inimical to orthodoxy, was very evident at Providence during the years I attended. One of the first things alert students would have noticed in their first semester was the tension between “Biblical Studies” and “Theology” although technically they were part of the same Department. It is a truism that good theology is based upon the teachings of the Bible rather than imposed upon the teachings of the Bible but the flipside to this is that good Biblical studies must be based upon the orthodox view that the Bible is not like any other book but is a set of writings, with a supernatural origin, that are under supernatural promises of preservation against supernatural attack. In Biblical Studies courses at Providence, at least at the undergraduate level, they sought a partial resolution of this tension through the ideas of the Sheffield School, so named after David J. A. Clines who taught Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield. This school emphasized canonical criticism – that is to say, looking at the Scriptures in their “final form” as a canon – a collection of texts received as sacred by the community of faith.

Some would regard the development of this form of criticism as a major step towards orthodoxy and away from the historical-critical method that had previously dominated, and indeed been essentially identical with, the higher criticism. The historical-critical method was the attempt to reconstruct the pre-history of the sacred texts, identifying oral and written sources that they were drawn from. Classical examples of this include the Documentary Hypothesis regarding the Pentateuch, which began with Jean Astruc and Johann Eichhorn in the eighteenth century, but became most widespread in the form associated with Karl Graf and Julius Welhaussen in the nineteenth century, the Deutero-Isaiah Hypothesis, and the theory that says that Mark was the first of the Synoptic Gospels to be written and used as a source by Matthew and Luke who both also drew material from another source named “Q.” These are theories that deserve high marks for creativity and originality and extremely low marks for having any real evidence to back them up. There is not a single example anywhere on the planet of a document that might have been a pre-Torah “J” “E” “P” or “D” source or the pre-Synoptics “Q” collection of Jesus’ sayings. These hypotheses are entirely conjectures based upon the opinions of scholars of how the Biblical books came about, which opinions in turn are based upon those scholars having adopted a rationalistic bias against the traditional, orthodox, explanation of the origins of the sacred texts.

Given the nature of this earlier higher criticism, it is not surprising that some evangelicals were looking with favour upon the Sheffield School of canon criticism which dealt with the text as it is rather than speculations about how it came to be. In my first semester at Providence Cameron McKenzie, the professor of Old Testament, assigned us Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context to read. This book, published by the liberal academic Lutheran publishing house Fortress in 1985, was written by Dr. Brevard S. Childs, who was professor of Old Testament at Yale University and essentially the founder of canonical criticism. Here is the second paragraph of his Introduction:

It should come as no surprise to learn that great differences of opinion exist among contemporary scholars as to how the task of writing an Old Testament theology should proceed. Not least of the disagreement turns on how theological reflection on the Old Testament relates to the prior, analytical study of the biblical text which is generally subsumed under the rubric of the historical-critical study of the Bible. It is my thesis that a canonical approach to the scriptures of the Old Testament opens up a fruitful avenue along which to explore the theological dimensions of the biblical text. Especially in the light of the widespread uncertainty at present as to how best to pursue the discipline, to try a different approach to the material would seem to be appropriate.

Note that this is basically saying that the historical-critical method has gotten stuck in a rut and is going nowhere – a “stalemate” is the term he uses a few pages later - and until that changes it its best to try another angle. Which is not the same thing as a repudiation of the contra-orthodoxy presuppositions that lay beneath that method. Which, of course, brings us back to the reason I brought this up, that by attempting to resolve the tension between orthodoxy and academic respectability by shining light on theories that avoid the speculative fiction of the earlier higher criticism this kind of evangelical scholarship has fallen short of what full orthodoxy requires, the building of the entire citadel of Biblical studies on the orthodox view of Scriptures.

This is as true of the lower criticism as it is of the higher criticism. Which is why evangelical scholars seeking a solution to both the crisis of orthodoxy that Lindsell and Schaeffer wrote about and the crisis of intellectual respectability that Wells and Noll wrote about, might do well to consider a sadly neglected work by the late Theodore P. Letis, The Ecclesiastical Text: Criticism, Biblical Authority and the Popular Mind published by the Institute of Renaissance and Reformation Studies in 1997. Letis, who admired Childs’ canonical approach, took it to an entirely new level by incorporating the question of text into it. No sound and satisfactory answer can be found to Tertullian’s ancient question of “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” by subjecting the Church’s sacred texts to any sort of academic praxis that puts into effect theories derived from presuppositions of doubt rather than presuppositions of faith.

The underlying premise of the Traditional School, in all of its internal variations, is that the text of God’s Word is not something that has been lost in the sands of Egypt, waiting for scholars to recover it, but has been preserved by God in the Scriptures that have been available to His Church, in all regions, at all times. This is, if you will, the translation into textual scholarship, of the famous canon of St. Vincent of Lerins who in his fifth century Commonitorium, defined as truly catholic “quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est” which means “that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” The text which, as Sturz has shown, dates back to the earliest times, and which is found in the majority of manuscripts by far, from all regions of the Christian world, is the text which this principle points us to. David Chilton was quite right when he wrote in The Days of Vengeance, his commentary on the Book of Revelation (1987):

I do wish to stress, however, that the issue is not really one of majority (i.e., simply counting manuscripts) but catholicity: The point of the "Majority Text" is that it is the Catholic Text, the New Testament used by the universal Church of all ages' - in contrast to the so-called "critical text" of most modern translations, representing a tiny, variant tradition produced in Egypt.

There are, as noted earlier, variations in the Traditional School. Wilbur N. Pickering and Maurice A. Robinson represent one such variation, the Majority Text position. There is also the Textus Receptus position, which would argue that from the Byzantine manuscripts, the most authentic readings are those which ended up in the editions prepared by Erasmus, Stephanus and Beza which were the basis of the Reformation Bibles, such as the Authorized and Luther’s German Bible. John William Burgon was closer to this position than the Majority Text position, and its most scholarly proponent in the twentieth century was probably Dr. Edward Freer Hills author of The King James Version Defended and Believing Bible Study. A variation of the Textus Receptus position, the one most people would be familiar with, is King James Onlyism of which Gail Riplinger mentioned above is a representative. It too comes in a number of variations.

Bob Wilkin, in the blog post already referred to, was, as mentioned, responding to an article by the current editor of the Sword of the Lord. I have not read the article, which does not appear to be available online, but if I understand Dr. Wilkin’s representation of it correctly, it sounds like Dr. Smith has moved to a different form of King James Onlyism than that of his predecessor Dr. Curtis Hutson. If this is, in fact, the case, it is the second time in the fundamentalist newspaper’s history that it has shifted position. It’s founding editor, the much loved, grandfatherly old evangelist, Dr. John R. Rice, used the Authorized Bible primarily, but not exclusively, was very critical of translations made by liberals and biased towards liberalism – such as the Revised Standard Version (the New of which is much worse in this regards) – but regarded these text debates as something to be left to scholars, and controversy over them to be avoided as much as possible. His successor, Dr. Curtis Hutson, used the Authorized Bible exclusively and was critical of all modern translations, taking the position, similar to that of D. A. Waite and David W. Cloud, that it is the best English translation of the best Greek text (Textus Receptus) and no other is needed.

Here I feel compelled to inject yet another diversionary note. During “reading week” – this is what is called “revision week” in the rest of the Commonwealth and roughly corresponds to what Americans call “spring break” although it would be morbidly inappropriate to apply the latter term up here, at least in this region of Canada where this week is typically colder than the icy heart of Greta – in 1995, my friend Jonathan Meisner and I took a trip to the United States. Jon, the son of a representative of a mission that specializes in Bible translations, was, the last I heard word of him, living and, I think, teaching in Her Majesty’s realm of Australia down under. I hope and pray that he and his family are safe from the wildfires that jihadist terrorists have been setting but which are being blamed on the chimerical bugbear of “climate change.” After a couple of days of travel, in which we discovered that there was such a thing as a peanut butter “Snickers” bar – at this point unknown in Canada – and otherwise subsisted on cheap burritos, we arrived in Chicago. We spent most of the week at Moody Bible Institute. We saw, although we did not enter, to the best of my recollection, the famous Moody Memorial Church, that had known such pastors as R. A. Torrey, Harry A. Ironside, Alan Redpath, and Warren Wiersbe and which at the time was pastored by Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer, himself a graduate of what would become Providence in its earliest phase as Winnipeg Bible Institute. Earlier that year we had heard Dr. Lutzer speak at Providence as he was the lecturer for that year’s “Staley Lectures.” I have, however, gotten really sidetracked this time. The point of this diversion was that prior to arriving at MBI, our first destination had been Hammond, a suburb of Chicago across the Indiana border. There, on Sunday we attended the First Baptist Church where we got to hear the late Dr. Jack Hyles preach. Jack Hyles and his church had been closely associated with the Sword since the days of John R. Rice. The day we were there was the day the news arrived that Dr. Curtis Hutson had passed away. Dr. Shelton Smith would shortly thereafter take up the reins.

If I understand correctly what Dr. Smith was asserting in his article – and again, I have not seen the article, only Dr. Wilkin’s response and I may very well be reading too much into the latter’s sentence “But the idea that the KJV is perfect and that we can correct the Greek manuscripts of the NT based on what the KJV says is going beyond Scripture and reason” which could be an example of making one’s point by taking one’s opponents arguments to their extreme – it sounds like he has moved to a different form of KJV-Onlyism, the one that is known as “Ruckmanism” after its most noted proponent, the late Dr. Peter Sturges Ruckman, who was pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida and president of Pensacola Bible Institute until his passing about three years ago. Ruckman did indeed take the position that one could correct the Greek with the Authorized Bible – chapter eight of his The Christian’s Handbooks of Manuscript Evidence (1970) is entitled “Correcting the Greek With the English” although one has to have read all the chapters leading up to this, including the endnotes, to really understand what he was saying. Contrary to what one is likely to conclude who is familiar with his position but not his arguments, Ruckman was no idiot – far from it. He was, in fact, a man of genius level intelligence, who was extremely well acquainted with all sides of this controversy. This does not, of course, mean that he was right. Unfortunately, he was also the very embodiment of everything that the one word in the title of the hit single from Denis Leary’s 1993 No Cure For Cancer denotes, and the exceptionally rude manner in which he spoke of everyone who disagreed with him on this and any number of other matters – for he had a number of extremely singular interpretations – tended to alienate even those on the same side, although I suspect that the late Auberon Waugh would have awarded Ruckman high marks in what he called the “vituperative arts” for precisely this had someone ever bothered to draw him to his attention. About the only widely-known Christian leader of whom I am aware who comes even close to being comparable to Ruckman in his level of acerbity is Bob Larson, the “shock jock” of Christian talk radio, whose show was still being aired on a Winnipeg station during the early years of my studies at Providence where I recall hearing it on a couple of evenings with Adam Atkinson, now a missionary but who was then the roommate of the aforementioned Jon Meisner and who, Larson I mean, at the end of my freshman year, came to the University of Winnipeg to speak, but was prevented by the alphabet soup gang in a very early example of the despicable and disgusting, Stalinist, phenomenon of cancel culture that is all but ubiquitous in academia today. But I have digressed yet again. If the Sword is now teaching Ruckmanism it has certainly departed greatly from where it started out.

Ruckman, by making the Authorized Version superior even to the text from which it was translated, did us the service, by taking an absurd and ridiculous opposite extreme, of exposing the most vulnerable point of the standard conservative evangelical/fundamentalist view of Scriptural authority which is expressed in its fullest in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1986). That point is the insistence that all of the lofty terms which we use to express aspects of the authority of the Scriptures as God’s Word – inspiration, infallibility, inerrancy, etc., - apply only to the original autographs. Ruckman argued – and he did have a case here – that to limit these descriptions to the autographs when the autographs are not themselves extant adds up to a practical denial of these descriptions with regards to any Bible we actually have. His answer, of making the Authorized Version into the standard by which literally everything before and after it is judged, is not the solution to the problem but it requires a better response than simply doubling down on the “original autographs” position. At the very least it requires that we distinguish between what the “original autographs” construction was designed to guard against and what it was not. Obviously, as the entire discussion of manuscript variants above demonstrates, God in His providence did not make scribes and copyists, individually or as a whole, inerrant. Nor, although this point evidently eluded Ruckman, did he guarantee inerrancy to those tasked with bridging the language gap made necessary due to the fallout after the world’s first Bob Dylan fan, King Nimrod I of Babylon, decided go knock-knock-knock-knock-knocking on heaven’s door (or, perhaps, since he constructed a ziggurat, a stepped pyramid, it was Led Zeppelin he was anticipating). Thus the insistence upon the autographs. When this insistence is turned against providential preservation of the text it becomes problematic. Indeed, at this point it becomes a superstition – an ascription of all the qualities of Scriptural authority to the papyrus, platypus, or whatever the original autograph happened to be written on, instead of the words. It was the text of the original autographs that was inspired, and that text what God has undertaken to preserve, despite the human fallibility of scribes and translators.

With regards to English translations, I, if asked would probably describe myself as a “non-practicing King James Onlyist.” Or “a King James Onlyist in the same sense that Alan Clark was a vegetarian”. Alan Clark, who served as junior minister in the ministries of employment, trade and defence in the UK under Margaret Thatcher, was frequently reported to be a vegetarian and loved to tell people he was so, at one point bringing it up in a dispute with the Iron Lady herself. This incident, along with several others of a similar nature, are recorded in his famous Diaries, along with accounts of his eating such things as bacon, chicken livers, etc. He was a non-practicing vegetarian, in other words, which if you are going to be a vegetarian, is the best kind to be. The Authorized Version is the Bible I read in my private devotions, and the translation that I use when quoting the Bible as an authority in my writings. When with other Christians who use other translations I take a “when in Rome” approach and don’t argue the point unless somebody else is foolish enough to raise it. This is because I consider such argument to be largely unproductive, not because I would consider it to be divisive. With every contentious issue that has arisen in the Church in the last century or so the accusation of divisiveness has always been made against those who argue for the old traditions, the old ways, the status quo ante on the part of those pushing an agenda of change, whether it be for the ordination of women or same-sex marriage or some such thing. In reality, it is those pressing for change, who are creating division.

I have no problem with Bob Wilkin’s position as he explains it in his blog post. Wilkin, who is very close to Zane Hodges in most if not all of his views, belongs to what I have called here the Traditional School in which he advocates the Majority Text position. I would position myself in the Traditional School somewhere between this and the Textus Receptus position advocated by the Trinitarian Bible Society. Wilkin uses the New King James Version. I have nothing against the NKJV, which was translated from the same text at the Authorized Version, by conservative scholars one of whom I knew personally – Dr. William K. “Bill” Eichhorst who was Chancellor of Providence while I was there. I gave my copy away to my dear friend St. Reaksa of Himm decades ago, however. I don’t particularly see the need for updating the language of the Authorized Version, the beauty of which is a huge part of its charm. I know full well that “prevent” in 1611 still meant what its Latin roots suggest rather than “to hinder” and that “rereward” is a military term meaning a rearguard not rewarding someone a second time. As for the old objection to the “thees and thous”, I can only scoff at it in derision. Anyone who does not know that these mean “you” should still be reading a Picture Bible. Ultimately, what it boils down to for me is “If it was good enough for King Charles I it is good enough for me”.

I began with a memory of Providence and will close with one that relates to the Authorized Version albeit in a completely different way. In my freshman year our New Testament professor, whom I did not bring up in the earlier discussion of the Biblical Studies v. Theology tension simply because most of the issues with the New Testament department at that time had to do with the Professor’s being in what appeared to be the first stages of a transition to Judaism and thus, obviously, could hardly be said to be typical of larger trends in evangelical scholarship, repeated a meme that was circulating at the time as to the Authorized Version, namely that the reason the name Ἰάκωβος is rendered “James” rather than “Jacob” when referring to New Testament figures of this name, rather than the Old Testament patriarch, is because the King wanted his name put in the translation.

There were several students who took everything this man had to say as Gospel truth. By contrast with Peter Ruckman, whose crass and caustic manner expressed an attitude of complete disrespect for all the pretensions of scholarship these students went to the opposite extreme of forming an almost cult-like adoration of their favourite scholar. Consequently, they never bothered to do the simple research that would have been necessary to debunk the aforementioned meme.

Thus when, three or four years later, in a class taught by Dr. August H. Konkel this subject came up – exactly why, I do not remember – one of these students, parroted the answer he had been given in our freshman year. Gus told him that he was wrong and asked if anyone knew the real answer. I raised my hand and pointed out that long before the Authorized Version Ἰάκωβος had been rendered by the precursor to James in Latin. James and Jacob are both etymologically derived from the same Hebrew original. This was the correct answer. Gus acknowledged this and then asked me if I had studied Latin. At that point in time I had to say no, although I have since rectified that. Here is how I knew the answer: while not all versions of the Vulgate show this – the change had not taken place by St. Jerome’s day – the edition that was sitting in the Providence library for anybody to check, as I had done, after simply looking up the etymology of the name James, certainly did.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

My Point of View

Today is January 1st, the first day of the year according to the civil calendar. In the liturgical year it is the octave day of Christmas and hence the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord. For as long as I have been writing essays and making them available to the public, I have chosen this as the day for an annual essay summarizing my political and religious beliefs. This is in honour of the late Charley Reese, who was a syndicated op-ed columnist who had a similar practice, maintaining that writers owed their readers this sort of full disclosure.

First, I will say that I am a Canadian. I was born in Canada, raised in Canada, and have lived my entire life so far in Canada, in the province of Manitoba. I grew up on a farm in southwestern Manitoba and, after graduating from Rivers Collegiate Institute, studied theology for five years at Providence College and Theological Seminary, as it was called at the time, in Otterburne in southeastern Manitoba. I have lived and worked since then in the provincial capital of Winnipeg.

I use the old political label "Tory" to describe my political views. This term is most commonly used today to refer to adherents of the Conservative Party but I do not use it in this partisan sense. I have little love for any political party. I detest the Liberal Party for what it has done to my country, and the NDP for the views they espouse which I consider to be both insane and evil, but hold the Conservative Party largely in contempt for not being true to Tory principles. When I was growing up, people who wished to indicate that they held conservative political convictions without necessarily supporting the Conservative Party called themselves "small-c conservatives." I prefer "Tory" because most "small-c conservatives" are actually neoconservatives, that is, people whose "conservatism" contains nothing except the beliefs of the liberalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, except a highly favourable view of American militarism. Tory was the name of the party that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries fought for the constitutional rights and privileges of the Crown and for the established Church of England with its Apostolic hierarchy and ministry and reformed doctrine and practice against Puritans, Whigs, levellers, and other such radicals. The Tory Party was reorganized into the Conservative Party in the early nineteenth century. My preference for the label Tory is to indicate my greater sympathy with the views of Lord Falkland, John Evelyn, the Earl of Clarendon, Sir Robert Filmer, Dean Swift, Dr. Johnson, James Boswell and Colonel Sibthorp, than with those associated with the Conservative Party at any point after this reorganization.

As a Tory, I am a royalist and a monarchist, rather than a republican or democrat. Monarchism is the belief that political sovereignty is the property of the single individual who is the representative head of the state, and royalism the belief that this office is best handed down as an inheritance through a line of natural succession rather than filled by popular election. This goes against the Modern notion that government derives its legitimacy from being chosen by the governed, but it is based upon the ancient idea that authority, the right to lead, should be supported by power, the ability to compel, but that true authority cannot be based on power. Democracy is a form of government based on power - the power of numbers or mob rule - and is thus the mother of all tyranny. Dictators, tyrants. despots - whichever term you use to refer to those who are in a sense monarchs, but who are in no way royal - derive their power from their ability to manipulate the masses and control the crowds. That is what real democracy looks like. I believe in the Westminster Parliament system, not because it is "democratic", but because it is a way, that has evolved through centuries and has stood the test of time, of harnessing this kind of power into the support of government that has the natural royal authority of the king or queen at its head. Put another way, I believe in the institution of Parliament rather than the ideal of democracy.

Furthermore, as a Tory, I believe that order and freedom are complementary rather than opposing forces. There can be no true order without freedom and no true freedom without order. When revolutionaries attack the traditional order they do so in the name of freedom, but when they have torn the old order down they replace it with a false, new order in which there is little freedom, and far less than in the old order. I believe that the classical liberal idea that the natural state of mankind is to exist as individuals outside of organized society, that such a state is one in which freedom is absolute but insecure, and that individuals create societies by voluntarily contracting to give up a portion of their absolute freedom to gain security for that which they retain, is completely false. The natural state of mankind is to live together in families, communities, and societies, to exist apart from such is an unnatural state, and freedom can only be found in the order of family, community and society. Furthermore, since order is hierarchical, and freedom only exists within order, the idea that freedom and equality go together is also completely false.

Self-described conservatives believe in defending Western Civilization from its detractors and against enemies who would subvert it from within or attack it from abroad. That is all well and good, and I, probably more often than not, would agree with them about those detractors and enemies. Most of these, however, are neo-conservatives who think of "Western Civilization" only in terms of Modern liberalism, democracy, capitalism, and secularism. They subscribe wholeheartedly to the Whig Interpretation of History and the only positive good they can see in the pre-Modern past is what can be interpreted as leading up to Modern liberalism. I, as a Tory, disagree with this perspective very much, and would say that the largest part of what is worth defending in Western civilization is the heritage of the ancient civilizations of classical Greece and Rome and especially the Christian civilization of pre-Modern Christendom. Neoconservatives look back on World War II and the Cold War through the lenses of a sort of Manichean dualism and see them as conflicts between the good side of Western Civilization in the Modern sense of liberal, secular, capitalist democracy and the bad side of the rival totalitarianisms of Nazism and Communism. From my Tory understanding, however, I strongly agree with what T. S. Eliot argued in The Idea of a Christian Society and which was also the entire point of Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy and a number of speeches by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn that liberal, secular, capitalist, democracy springs from the same Modern well as Nazism and Communism and we must look to traditions older than this to find something worthy of the honour of being called civilization. In the post-World War II era, and even more so the post-Cold War era, the Tory must be more of a reactionary, a label that I learned to embrace from the example of the late, great, historian John Lukacs, than a conservative.

Therefore, while as a Tory I share the anti-socialism of soi-disant conservatives, indeed, in what I would say is a stronger form, I do not share their enthusiastic pro-capitalism. Conservatives' objection to socialism is that it doesn't work, that it places all of a nation's resources under the control of incompetent administrators, robs people of incentives and makes them into de facto slaves, and promises abundance to everybody but delivers instead the misery of long line-ups for one's pitiful ration of the most basic goods and services. All of this is true, but from my perspective the real reason socialism deserves condemnation is that it is the vice of Envy, second only to Pride as the worst of the Seven Deadly Sins, hypocritically wearing the mask of the highest theological virtue, Charity or Christian Love. As for capitalism, I find it difficult to be enthusiastic for the great engine of change, which has been driving people out of the countryside and into big, ugly, sprawling cities for over two centuries now, uprooting communities, dividing families, replacing woods and meadows with cement and asphalt and teaching everybody to value everything in terms of its utility or, worse, its sale price. Yes, I am aware that of all the ideological systems of the Modern Age, it is liberal capitalism that actually delivers the material progress they each promise. My question for those who think that this is sufficient to answer the above criticism is whether or not this material progress is worth the cost. Two thousand years ago, Someone asked "what doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" and warned that "ye cannot serve both God and mammon." Oswald Spengler said that the Western Civilization of the Age of Progress possessed a Faustian soul. Perhaps it is time that we look past the happy ending Goethe gave to his version of the Faust legend and remember how Christopher Marlowe originally ended his great tragedy.

I began contemplating the hubris of modernity long before I encountered the concept of "chronological snobbery" that so poignantly captures its essence in the writings of C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield. The realization that we have developed an unhealthy habit of ascribing too high a value to scientific explanations of the world, treating as dogmatic truth what is at best plausible speculation, without questioning the materialist presuppositions that have increasingly biased the entire scientific process, and ignoring the obvious fact that science's primary value to mankind, its utility in harnessing nature to serve his will, is independent of whether its hypotheses are later verified or proven false, helped me, to overcome the stumbling blocks that science classes unwittingly placed in the way of accepting the Christian faith that was still, at the time, albeit in a somewhat watered down form, taught in the early grades of the public schools, at least in the rural parts of Canada where I grew up. When I was fifteen, I, in the lingo of evangelicalism, accepted Jesus Christ as my Saviour and was baptized about a year and a half later. Aware that mainstream denominations had been infiltrated by a form of Modern unbelief that pretended to be faith while coming up with clever ways to explain away the authority of the Scriptures and the articles affirmed in the Apostles' Creed in their literal sense, I spent the early years of my Christian faith in dissenting sects where this was not so much a problem. As my faith matured, and I came to appreciate the richness of liturgical worship, the unsurpassed affirmations of the Christian kerygma in the ancient ecumenical Creeds, that a right understanding of the Scriptures can hardly be a matter of private interpretation since prior to the relatively recent invention of the printing press and spread of literacy it was not possible for every believer to have his own copy to read for himself, that studying only or even primarily the theologians of the last five centuries and bypassing the Church Fathers of the first five centuries of the Christian age is a sure way to fall into serious error, and the importance of the three clerical orders and the sacramental ministry established in the New Testament, I was confirmed in the Anglican Church. I have in no way abandoned my contempt for the kind of thinly disguised unbelief that explains away the deity, Virgin Birth, and bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ as these have traditionally and literally been understood and retain my conviction that, in the words of Dr. Bob Jones Sr. "whatever the Bible says is so" and have become, therefore, a sort of fundamentalist High Churchman.

I am well aware of the fact that those who follow the spirit of the present age will find my views, religious and political, to be highly offensive. This does bother me and since this type are so eager to take offense at thoughts and words that do not conform to the current fashion I take no small amount of delight in so giving it. It saddens me greatly to see the extent to which this spirit of fashionable progressivism has pervaded my own country, the Dominion of Canada, which was originally built upon the solid foundation of Honour and Loyalty in conscious rejection of the path of severing ties to the past and rushing headlong into the future. I have been watching, over the last half of a decade, as all across Western civilization increasing numbers of people have, in an expression taken from the most boring movie trilogy I ever slept through, been "red-pilled", that is to say, had their eyes opened to the fact that what we have been told to think about race, nation, ethnicity, immigration, sex, gender, sexual/gender orientation/identity and similar matters for a couple of generations now is all a pack of ridiculous lies. While I find this somewhat encouraging, have very much enjoyed watching the bien pensants of the left break down into raving hysterics over it, and would like to see more of this in Canada, I also see reason for caution. There is too much populism among the red-pilled and not enough deep reflection on how the lies they are rejecting are the result of a downward trajectory that began when Western Civilization entered the Modern Age by stepping away from the order of Christendom in which, as Fr. Seraphim Rose put it "Orthodox Christian Monarchy is government divinely established, and directed, ultimately, to the other world, government with the teaching of Christian Truth and the salvation of souls as its profoundest purpose."

Happy New Year
God Save the Queen!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Fulfilment Theology

South of the border, in the secular, liberal, republic founded by deistic Freemasons almost two and a half centuries ago in the first wave of the Modern Age’s revolution against Christian civilization, their current President, Donald the Orange, besieged by the barbaric and uncivilized forces of the mainstream media and the Democratic Party, has been doing what he does best, which is to make waves. On a side note, allow me to say that although I, as a staunch royalist and monarchist, disapprove of the office of President of the United States, as I do of the offices of all elected heads of state, I am rather inclined to think well of Donald the Orange, if only because, like Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon before him, he had all the right enemies.

One item that has recently gotten his critics’ dander up, is his having invited Dr. Robert Jeffress to speak at a White House Hanukkah ceremony in which he, that is Trump, vowed to crush anti-Semitism. Dr. Jeffress is a Southern Baptist minister, the present senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, where he occupies the pulpit that once belonged to such homiletical giants as George Truett and W. A. Criswell. This is the church of which the late evangelist, Billy Graham, was a member for over fifty years.

My question for those who say that it was mal à propos for Dr. Jeffress to be invited to speak at this event is whether or not they would say the same thing if a rabbi were invited to speak at a White House Christmas celebration.

Those who are raising a stink about Jeffress point to his having said the following “Judaism, you can't be saved being a Jew, you know who said that by the way, the three greatest Jews in the New Testament, Peter, Paul, and Jesus Christ, they all said Judaism won't do it, it's faith in Jesus Christ.” Which is, of course, the orthodox Christian view of the matter. Anyone who says he is a Christian and disagrees with this is a heretic.

While it is easy to see why Jews would find this offensive and object, therefore, to someone holding these views being asked to speak at an event honouring an important Jewish festival, let us return to the question I raised. Would it be similarly offensive to invite a rabbi to speak at a Christmas celebration?

It ought to be. Christmas is the Christian festival commemorating the nativity of Jesus Christ, that is, Jesus of Nazareth Whom Christians believe to be the Christ, the Son of God. Christ is a Greek word with the same meaning as the Hebrew Messiah. It means “anointed one” and refers specifically to the One Whom God in the Old Testament promised He would send to deliver Israel, make a New Covenant in which His laws would be written in men’s hearts rather than on tablets of stone, and establish the eternal Kingdom of God in which He will reign on the throne of David. Rabbinic Judaism rejects Jesus’ claim to be the fulfilment of these prophesies. Indeed, the suggestion that this rejection of Jesus as the Christ has for almost two thousand years been more central to the identity of Judaism than any positive affirmation, such as descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the deliverance from Egyptian bondage in the Exodus, or the Covenant made at Mt. Sinai, while controversial, is defensible. According to traditional rabbinic teaching, a Jew doesn’t necessarily cease to be a Jew if he loses all faith in God and becomes an atheist, but he does cease to be a Jew is he is baptized a Christian. Traditionally, when a Jew so converts, his family holds a funeral for him.

If Jeffress’ holding the orthodox Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is the only way to God disqualifies him from being a speaker at a Hanukkah event, then the traditional teachings of rabbinic Judaism ought to disqualify any rabbi from speaking at a Christmas event.

In saying all of this, I am, of course, breaking one of biggest taboos of the day in which we live. It is considered, by the bien pensants of the progressive age, perfectly okay to criticize Christianity and especially for ideas and attitudes, traditions and habits, words and behaviour that are considered, rightly or wrongly, to be anti-Jewish, but it is considered unacceptable to criticize Judaism and absolutely verboten when that criticism points out comparable anti-Christian elements of the Jewish tradition. I have no problem with saying that I have no respect, either for this taboo, or for the people of whatever faith – and this includes plenty of nominal Christians – who impose it upon us.

In this taboo, we see precisely what is wrong with the interfaith “dialogue” that has sprung up between Christians and Jews since 1945. I place “dialogue” in scare quotes because this word suggests a two-way conversation and the “dialogue” in question has been anything but. The talk has been entirely about Jewish grievances against Christianity. Any attempt to raise the question of anti-Christian attitudes and behaviour on the part of the Jews runs the risk of being called “anti-Semitic”.

The blame for this belongs almost entirely on spineless “Christians” who are unwilling to stand up for the faith and cower before any attack. These cowards, although there has been no dearth of respectable and scholarly Jewish leaders who have spoken out against the charge that it was the traditional teachings of the Christian Church that generated the animus against the Jews that ultimately culminated in the Holocaust (1), have no inclination to do the same on behalf of their own professed faith. Instead, they jettison essential Christian truth as they bend over backwards to accept the blame for the crimes of a regime built on an ideology that blended nationalism, socialism, Darwinism, and various other strands of the Modern revolt against Christianity and Christendom with elements of pre-Christian paganism and occult mysticism, the Fuhrer of which, ridiculed the faith among his intimate acquaintances. (2)

The truth these “Christians” wish to throw out is that spoken by Dr. Jeffress in the quotation found in the fourth paragraph of this essay. It is a truth spoken by Jesus Christ Himself. Stated positively, it is the truth that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me”. (John 14:6)

What Dr. Jeffress said was the negative side to this same coin.

Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come. Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come. And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. (John 8:21-24)

Earlier this year at its General Synod, the Anglican Church of Canada passed a contemptible and foolish resolution to replace the fourth prayer in the “Prayers and Thanksgivings upon Several Occasions” section of the Book of Common Prayer, with a “Prayer for Reconciliation with the Jews”. The prayer it is replacing was entitled “For the Conversion of the Jews” and reads:

O God, who didst choose Israel to be thine inheritance: Look, we beseech thee, upon thine ancient people; open their hearts that they may see and confess the Lord Jesus to be thy Son and their true Messiah, and, believing, they may have life through his Name. Take away all pride and prejudice in us that may hinder their understanding of the Gospel, and hasten the time when all Israel shall be saved; through the merits of the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The prayer that replaces it is for the most part the same, but it replaces “Look, we beseech thee, upon thine ancient people: open their hearts that they may see and confess the Lord Jesus to be thy Son and their true Messiah, and believing, they may have life through his Name” with “Have mercy upon us and forgive us for violence and wickedness against our brother Jacob; the arrogance of our hearts and minds hath deceived us, and shame hath covered our face” and similarly alters the final petition to remove any suggestion that the Jews need to accept the Gospel to be saved.

Twenty-seven years ago, the General Synod had voted to remove the third Collect for Good Friday, from subsequent editions of the Book of Common Prayer. That Collect had read:

O Merciful God, who has made all men, and hatest nothing that thou hast made, nor wouldest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live: Have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Hereticks, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Oddly, the resolution to replace the Prayer For Conversion of the Jews has met with little outcry from those who rightly opposed the resolution, defeated at the same Synod – although one would think otherwise from the behaviour of many within the House of Bishops – to change the marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriages. Yet, it is arguably a much more serious deviation from orthodoxy. Sexual ethics and the sanctity of marriage, important as they are, occupy a lower tier in the Christian hierarchy of truth than “Jesus Christ is the only way to God.”

Not only, however, has there been little outcry over this but some have actually defended it. The Anglican Planet, for example, a generally orthodox newspaper, in June reposted excerpts from a few articles originally published by the Prayer Book Society of Canada written by the PBS National Chairman Rev. Gordon Maitland and the Rev. Chris Dow, both of whom were involved in the revision. Rev. Maitland, attempts to argue that the change does not actually deviate from the truth that Jesus Christ is the only way to God:

None of this implies that the Prayer Book Society is giving up on mission and witness to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and his saving message of peace and reconciliation for all the world. The three prayers “For the Extension of the Church” in the “Prayers and Thanksgivings upon Several Occasions” section of the BCP (pp.40-41) are not being altered in any way, and we will continue to pray that our Lord’s Kingdom will be extended and that people will continue to be called into fellowship with Christ in his Church.

In other words “Jesus is still the only way to God, but we want to word it in universal terms, rather than singling any particular group out.” That’s all very well and good but I very much doubt that any but a small minority of those who supported the resolution interpret it this way.

Rev. Dow bases his rationale for the new Prayer upon a repudiation of supersessionism. I will explain the meaning of that word shortly. First, I will observe that at the end of Rev. Dow’s essay, which is worth reading in the full, unabridged version, he notes that the original ending of the new prayer “through thy wellbeloved Son Jesus Christ our Lord” was removed because “Our Jewish consultants for this project felt that this implied that the redemption of the Jewish people is to be achieved through Jesus Christ, thus contradicting the project’s stated aim of renouncing supersessionism.” Since the idea that the redemption of the Jewish people can be achieved other than through Jesus Christ is soul-damning heresy, the admission that the committee capitulated on this point ought to be sufficient grounds for any orthodox Christian to repudiate this project.

Rev. Dow, to his credit, goes on to say:

This raises a vitally important question: can Christian theology ever be entirely nonsupersessionist? In my view, this is doubtful. Though hard and hostile supersessionism must certainly be rejected, it would seem that a much softer, irenic and more theologically sophisticated form of supersessionism is inherent to the claims of the New Testament, which presents Jesus Christ as the long-awaited Davidic Messiah, who died for the sins of the whole world and rose again according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4), thus fulfilling the Law and the Prophets and inaugurating a New Covenant that emerges from the Old.

The distinction between a “hard” and a “soft” supersessionism is not original with Rev. Dow but is borrowed from Rabbi David Novak. He makes reference to Novak’s having said that the soft form of supersessionism “need not denigrate Judaism” and that Christianity cannot be truly Christian without it. Rev. Dow clearly hopes that the noting of this distinction, affirmation of soft supersessionism and rejection of hard supersession is sufficient to deal with any objections that might arise out of orthodox doctrine. In my opinion, it is not, and what is more, it avoids not only addressing the Christian truth that is being compromised here but also the real problem with supersessionism.

It is time now to define supersessionism. Supersessionism is also known as “replacement theology.” As the alternative label suggests it is the idea that God, in judgement upon the nation Israel for their rejection of Jesus Christ, has nullified His Covenant with them and replaced them as His people with the Christian Church. Those who are comfortable with affirming this idea as just stated would claim support for their position in the Parable of the Vineyard and similar passages. In Rabbi Novak’s terminology this is what would be called hard supersessionism. What he calls soft supersessionism, the idea that the New Covenant is an addition to the Old Covenant rather than a replacement for it, is actually a modified form of dual covenant theology. Dual covenant theology, while increasingly popular due to the spread of the very liberalism that William Law in the Bangorian Controversy had correctly argued was Hoadlyism taken to its logical conclusion, is unacceptable to orthodox Christianity.

There are many orthodox Christians who think that supersessionism is the traditional, teaching of the Church. I would argue, however, that there is a difference between what the Church has traditionally taught and supersessionism as defined above, and that supersessionism is something of a caricature of the orthodox doctrine. Consider again how we defined it above: the idea that God, in judgement upon the nation Israel for their rejection of Jesus Christ, has nullified His Covenant with them and replaced them as His people with the Christian Church. The problem with this doctrine, as stated, is that one could argue that it teaches that God has reneged on all of the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David, many of which, unlike the Sinaitic Covenant itself, are stated in absolute, unconditional, and eternal terms. Taken this way, it is comparable to teaching that God is about to send another world-destroying flood because of the way His rainbow, the symbol of His promise never to do so again, is currently being misused and abused.

The orthodox Christian doctrine is that not that God has reneged on all of His promises to Israel in the Old Testament but that He has fulfilled them. He promised that He would send them a Messiah, a Saviour of the bloodline of David, and He did precisely that when He sent them – and the world - His Son, Jesus Christ. He promised that He would make a New Covenant with them:

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jer. 31:31-34)

Jesus declared this promise to be fulfilled when, at His last Passover Seder in commemoration of God’s ancient deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage, following the supper He took up the Cup of Blessing and instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist declaring “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20).

Now think that through. The passage in the prophet Jeremiah, where God tells Israel that He will make a New Covenant with them, is very clearly a promise of blessing not a warning of judgement. To declare that promise to be fulfilled, therefore, hardly constitutes bad news for Israel. Indeed, it is declared to be good news for Israel – the Good News, that is, the Gospel, which is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Furthermore, since the promise of the New Covenant is part of the prophetic writings of the Old Covenant, it would have been breaking the Old Covenant for God NOT to have made the New Covenant. Finally, since the promise of the New Covenant explicitly declares that it would be made “with the house of Israel” this allows for no form of dual-covenant theology in which the Jews find salvation through the Old Covenant, and Gentiles through the New.

The Old Covenant, as St. Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews (3) clearly explains, was never the instrument of salvation in the sense in which we have been using the word in this essay, that is to say, salvation from sin and its ultimate consequences, but was rather an illustration of it. The descendants of Jacob had grown into the nation Israel while they were held in slavery in Egypt. Their physical bondage in Egypt was figurative of their, and the entire world’s, spiritual bondage to sin. God delivered them from that physical bondage in the events known as the Exodus which are recounted in the Book by that name. This salvation from physical slavery was figurative of how God would save them, and the entire world, from spiritual slavery to sin when His Son, Jesus the Christ, would bear the sins of the nation and the world to the Cross and make full propitiatory satisfaction for them through His death. The Old Covenant, which God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai shortly after the Exodus, looked backward to commemorate this physical deliverance that it might look forward in anticipation to the spiritual deliverance that it signified. The sacrifices it required, of bulls and goats, while they could not take away sin in themselves, depicted the sacrifice that would effectually do so.

On the night of the first Passover, when God sent the Angel of Death to strike down the first born of each Egyptian household in the last of the plagues by which He persuaded Pharaoh to release His people, the Israelites were told to slay a lamb and to mark their doors with its blood. Those in houses so marked would be spared from the visitation of the Angel of Death. This pointed to the day – the same day, as it occurred on the anniversary – when He, Whom John the Baptist described as “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world” would become the true Passover Sacrifice. The blood of that Lamb, applied to the metaphorical doorway of one’s heart when received in faith, spares one from something far worse than the Angel of Death. It spares one from what St. John in the Book of Revelation calls the Second Death – the eternal condemnation which awaits all who meet their death bearing the guilt of their sins. The blood of the true Passover was applied retroactively to all who, before the coming of Jesus Christ, had looked forward to the coming of the Messiah in faith, trusting God’s promise that He would send a Saviour. Since He came and accomplished the salvation of the world, His blood is applied through faith to all who hear the Gospel that He has come, died for their sins, and risen again, and who believe in His name. Whatever uncovenanted mercies we may hope are available to those who through ordinary human means have never heard of Him, it is the unmistakable teaching of the New Testament that those who know His name and reject Him, will, unless they repent of this unbelief and turn to Him in faith, perish in their sins.

There is no sane and rational way in which this doctrine can be said to be unfair to the Jews. Imagine if you will, a father, who on his son’s sixteenth birthday hands him an envelope. The boy opens the envelope and inside there is a card. On the card is the picture of an automobile. Outside in the driveway, the car, which is the real gift, sits parked. The son, thinking the card is his gift, thanks his father, has the card framed, puts it up on his wall, and parks himself in his room in front of it, gazing upon it with admiration. His father tries to explain to him that it is the car, not the card, that is the gift, and to hand him the keys, but he refuses to listen. The car rusts away unused in the driveway. Who in their right mind would say that the son had been treated unfairly?

Jesus Christ was given to the nation Israel as the Messiah they had been promised and to the world in general as the Saviour that we all needed. Furthermore, He was given to Israel on the same terms as He was given to the world, not with a special set of stipulations that stood in their way. Indeed, since Jesus was born into national Israel, lived among the Israelites all His life with the exception of the flight to Egypt in His infancy, called twelve Jews to be the Apostles of His Church, and commissioned them to take the Gospel to Jerusalem, David’s capital, then Judea, once the kingdom of Judah that had remained loyal to the House of David, then to Samaria, where the schismatic northern Kingdom had been located, before finally taking it to the rest of the world, it is clear that they were given preference, first dibs if you will, at accepting the Gospel. Nor has the door ever been shut to them. To the contrary, the famous illustration in the eleventh chapter of Romans compares the covenant of everlasting salvation to an olive tree, to which the natural Israelites are the natural branches, and Gentile believers are wild branches that have been grafted in through faith, saying that while the former, excluding, of course, those of the stock of ancient Israel who actually do believe, have been cut off from the tree temporarily by their unbelief, they can and will be grafted back into the tree when they finally come to believe in Jesus as their Messiah.

It would undoubtedly be more prudent to end on that note, but there is one more point that I feel I must address. In the New Testament, after the conversion of the first Gentiles when St. Peter was sent to Cornelius with the Gospel (4), the Apostolic Church met at the Jerusalem Council as narrated in Acts 15, to debate the question of whether the Gentiles needed to become Jews in order to become Christians. Their ruling was no, and St. Paul, who had become the Apostle to the Gentiles, elaborated the theology behind this in several of his epistles. He stressed the point that the ceremonial elements of the Mosaic Law which had been a wall, setting Israel apart from other nations as a kind of object lesson, which she constantly ignored, that she should not fall into their idolatrous practices, had been removed as such a barrier within the Christian Church. As the Book of Acts makes obvious, even as the Apostles were developing the Christian style of worship – meeting on the day of the resurrection, each week, for example - they, including St. Paul, did not see their ruling that the Gentiles need not be circumcised, eat kosher, etc., as prohibiting them from participating in the worship of Second Temple Judaism. Christian liberty was the doctrine, and it went both ways. Christians were free to follow the diet of the Old Testament and keep its festivals, but they were not required to do so.

In the more-or-less useless “interfaith dialogue”, dominated by progressives from both religions, that sprung up immediately after World War II, those “Christians” who have been bending over backwards to take the blame for Hitler’s atrocities – or the Protestants who have been pointing fingers at the “Catholic”, i.e., Roman Church – it has been argued that in the Patristic period a radical reversal on this Christian liberty was brought about, and the Church began to require that Jews cease to be Jews in order to become Christians.

There is, of course, a degree of truth in this but it is incomplete with no discussion of the radical change in the nature of Judaism that took place towards the end of the first generation of Christians. Jesus, His Apostles, and all the pre-Cornelius Christians had been Jews in two senses of the word. First, they were of the ethnic stock of Israel, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Second, they practiced the religion that would later be designated Second Temple Judaism. (5) This was the religion established by the Old Testament – taking that term to include all the history, including the partial return from exile and the rebuilding of the Temple. This was a national religion – practiced by a people who were bound to each other and to the land in which they lived by the ties that set a people apart as an ethnos – led by the clergy established in the Old Testament, the Levitical priesthood, the national worship of which was focused on the Temple in Jerusalem. Both Christianity and what we call Judaism today began within Second Temple Judaism but Second Temple Judaism itself came to an end in 70 AD, when Titus of Rome sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, half-way through the war that would end three years later when Israel’s last besieged defenders committed suicide as their stronghold in Masada fell, and most of the nation was scattered into diaspora throughout the Empire.

As a consequence of this, the rabbis, who had not been the clergy of Second Temple Judaism but a sort of lay teacher, associated especially with the sect of the Pharisees, became the leaders of those who continued to identify as Jews. Accordingly, their interpretation of the Old Testament has been the defining element of the religion known as Judaism ever since. For this reason it is known as rabbinic Judaism or Talmudic Judaism, the Talmud being the written compilation of rabbinic commentary on the Torah, on their own commentary, on their commentary on their commentary, and so on, starting well back in the intertestamental period. Jesus had participated in this traditional dialogue, as evidenced by St. Luke’s account of the incident when He was twelve and His occasional references to the disputes which were raging between the various rabbinic schools at the time of His earthly ministry, but was also a severe critic of it. In Second Temple Judaism, as we see in the Book of Acts, the rabbis greatly differed among themselves in their attitudes towards Christianity, the most positive in the New Testament record being that of Gamaliel, who had been a mentor of St. Paul before his conversion. After AD 70, the party most hostile to Christianity gained the uppermost hand in the rabbinic school, just as it itself became the top tier of post-Temple Judaism.

The explanation for this is not difficult to find. While Christianity could hardly be blamed for Rome’s actions in the Jewish-Roman War, as it had exactly zero political influence in the Empire at that time, and indeed, for a few centuries after, Jesus Christ Himself has both predicted the destruction of the Temple – see the Olivet Discourse, His references to the destruction of the Temple do not all refer to His own death – and proclaimed it to be an act of divine judgement. (6) When these prophecies materialized, the rabbinic attitude towards the One Who had made them, Whom they had rejected as their Messiah, hardened into hatred. Today, nearly two thousand years later, it is not hard to find rabbis who take a more positive view of Jesus, although obviously not accepting His claims to Messiahship. At the time, however, their descriptions of Him were such that Christians could only describe as blasphemous and their attitude towards His disciples was hardly amicable.

It was this new, strongly anti-Christian version of Judaism, aflame with hatred towards the One Who had prophesied the destruction of their Temple, that was denounced so vehemently by Church Fathers such as St. John Chrysostom. Obviously, this in no way justifies mistreatment of the Jews at the hands of Christians. It does, however, show that negative interaction between the two faiths has hardly been the one-sided affair with Christians bearing the sole blame, that the so-called interfaith dialogue of the present day often implies. Until that is properly acknowledged, no real such dialogue can ever take place.

In the meantime, it is hardly right for Christians to compromise the truth that Jesus Christ is the one and only Saviour of the world. Nor is there any good reason to abandon our prayers for the conversion of the Jews. See what the “Anglican Billy Graham” Marney Patterson had to say about this subject in his excellent book Suicide: The Decline and Fall of the Anglican Church of Canada? (1998) From the genuine Christian point of view, it is refusing to pray for their conversion and abandoning attempts to evangelize them, which would truly amount to Jew-hatred, not loving them enough to pray that Romans 11 would finally be fulfilled and they would embrace their Messiah.

So Merry Christmas everyone. For all the Jews out there, Happy Hanukkah and may you accept Jesus Christ as your Messiah. After all, we would hate to see you go to hell.

(1) See, for example, the late Rabbi Jacob Neusner’s “Sorting Out Jew Haters” in the March 1995 issue of Chronicles Magazine. “For nearly 20 centuries, faithful Christians have maintained that Judaism died at Calvary, meaning, Jesus Christ replaced Judaism and Christianity superseded it. This is anti-Judaism. Until Vatican II (for Catholicism) and its counterparts in Protestantism, that view prevailed universally. Classify this as the quite familiar theological warfare— all against all in God's name…None of these trivialities changes the world very much. None qualifies as anti-Semitism, because, by themselves or all together, none can have led to the holocaust of World War II... But anti-Semitism is not the same thing as casual bigotry, mere dislike of the unlike, let alone theological animus or a spiteful form of politics.” The most extreme version of the accusation that the Church is to blame for the Holocaust of which I am familiar is Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair, (2002). Goldhagen was also the author of the earlier Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (1996) which displayed a Teutonophobia that fell just short of saying that the Holocaust was caused by something in the German DNA. Goldhagen’s books have been rejected as vile tripe by serious historians, foremost among them being such Jewish historians as Raul Hilberg, Fritz Stern, and Yehuda Bauer.

(2) See Hitler’s Table Talk, a compilation of his private conversations as transcribed by Martin Bormann, Henry Picker, and Heinrich Heim.

(3) St. Peter in II Peter 3:15-16 makes reference to a Scriptural epistle that St. Paul had written to the same people to whom he was writing. Since St. Peter’s epistles were catholic epistles, written to the churches in general at a time when they were majority Jewish, and all of St. Paul’s signed epistles were written either to particular churches, usually majority Gentile, or specific individuals, the only epistle that St. Peter could have been referring to is Hebrews, identifying it therefore, although it is internally unsigned, as Pauline.

(4) Those who heard the Gospel in a multitude of languages at Pentecost in Acts 2, the “Grecian widows” whose neglect led the Apostles to establish the order of deacons in Acts 6, and the Ethiopian eunich whom St. Philip led to Christ in Acts 8, were all Jews.

(5) The word “Judaism”, or rather its Greek antecedent, was already around at the time, but it was used as a cultural description and only later became the proper name of the religion of the Jews.

(6) See, for example, the Parable of the Vineyard. Note, by the way, that while this hardly leaves room for orthodox Christians to argue that AD 70 was not a divine judgement, the preterist view that it fulfilled all Scriptural prophecy, negating both Romans 11 and all New Testament prophecies of Christ’s literal Second Coming in glory is utter heresy.