Finding the day for Easter?

It is reported that the disagreement between the eastern and western traditions of the Christian Church (regarding the right way of finding the true day upon which to celebrate Easter) is soon to be settled.

When I read this I was immediately reminded of a comment of an old Free Church (Presbyterian) theologian, who, having explained the grounds for the dispute over the day, finished the matter with the following comment:

“the truth all the while being, as we are firmly persuaded, that [the apostles] John and Peter and Paul did not keep Easter on any day, any more than we do.” (William Cunningham, Theological Lectures, p.488)

Meaning that the old school Presbyterians held firmly to the Biblical principle of observing in the worship of God only those things explicitly required in the Scripture. To do otherwise was to surrender the authority of Scripture to human tradition.

 

The New World Translation of the Bible

Just out of interest, I started reading the preface of the New World Translation (NWT) of the Bible (1984). l have a copy of the digital version. The piece that caught my eye was the following statement:

 The translators of this work, who fear and love the Divine Author of the Holy Scriptures, feel toward Him a special responsibility to transmit his thoughts and declarations as accurately as possible. They also feel a responsibility toward the searching readers who depend upon a translation of the inspired Word of the Most High God for their everlasting salvation.

Now, I remembered an interesting passage in The New Testament and thought to test this statement against the translation produced. The passage comes from the first chapter of Colossians, which reads as follows:

 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 because by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him. 17 Also, he is before all other things and by means of him all other things were made to exist

 You might notice that the word ‘other’ has been emphasised. I did that. The translators made no effort to single out ‘other’ for special attention.

 Now, there are two different Greek words that are commonly translated as ‘other’. One is ‘allos’, and the other is ‘heteros’. The first Greek word means ‘another of the same type’, while the second implies ‘another of a different type’. The question is, which Greek word was in the original text that Paul wrote down? Did our Lord Jesus create all other things that were ‘like’ him, or ‘different from’ him?

 Well, I opened my Greek New Testament to check. Guess what I found —

 NOTHING

 Paul never put the word ‘other’ in the places where it appears above in the NWT verion of Colossians chapter 1.  The words in bold italics above were inserted by the translators in spite of the fact that neither ‘allos’ nor ‘heteros’ appears in this portion of the Greek text. They did it repeatedly in this chapter. Whatever this type of translating might be, ‘accurate’ it is not.

 Let me confess that l already knew about the JW practice of inserting ‘other’ in this passage. In an earlier edition, the word ‘other’ had been more honestly placed in square brackets to indicate that it was NOT in the original Greek. I had even asked a friend of mine who is associated with the Kingdom Hall, ‘Why did the translators do this?’ He told me that without the word ‘other’, the passage wouldn’t make sense.

 You see, without the word ‘other’ we would have an uncreated Lord Jesus Christ who Himself is eternal God. The ‘sense’ that the word ‘other’ is deliberately intended to give is the JW teaching. We are to understand by ‘other’ that the Christ is a created god, who, at some point in the past, did not exist. The translators and editors seem to have over-ridden their professed respect for the Author of the Bible and have perverted the scriptures to support their own theory about the Christ.

 Let us be clear. The passage in Colossians tells us the Christ was before ALL things, that He created ALL things that are created. This is what the Spirit of God moved Paul to write. We need to receive it.

Whose Worship is it?

I belong to a church that makes a public statement about what worship is. It does this by means of a document called the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF).

Ministers and Elders of our church each make vows saying that they agree with that document and promise to assert, maintain and  defend its propositions. They own it as a profession of their faith. The WFC begins with an extensive chapter on the Word of God. There it says that the Bible is God’s complete and alone verbal revelation to his human creatures. The Bible alone is authoritative and normative for God’s people in faith and practice. The Bible alone tells us how we must be saved and how we should respond to that salvation. God himself is the one who teaches us, by his word and Holy Spirit.

In addition to the vow to assert, maintain and defend the teaching of the WFC, ministers and elders of my church are asked whether they hold to the form of purity of worship as practised by this church. They must answer yes to be admitted to the office of teaching or ruling elder. They are free to say ‘no’ if they do not hold to it, but they would have to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in a different Christian Church if they did say ‘no’. Now, it seems to me that the promise is not simply to fall into line with whatever churches are presently doing, that is, to do whatever churches at large do for worship, but rather it is another deliberate reference to what the church publicly states to be its idea of purity of worship in the WCF.

In short, public worship (doing church) is what God has said it is to be in his word.

If this is not true in the minds of other christians, it ought at least be true for ministers and elders of my church.

The confession says this: “The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scriptures.” WCF 21:1

This is a statement about the content of worship. Incidental matters like time, place, building design, seating comfort, and the tunes used for singing are to be decided by the local group using common sense (WCF 1:6), but the content of worship is to be received from the statements of the Bible. In short, what is prescribed (written down in the Bible) is to be done, but what is not prescribed is not to be done in public worship.

Now the WCF gives us some guidance regarding this matter. It states that the ordinary parts of public worship are: “[Prayer (WCF 21:4) and] the reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching and conscionable [intelligent; conscientious] hearing of the word, … singing of psalms with grace in the heart, [and] the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ.” (WCF 21:5)

This is a recognition that worship is God’s thing. He has given it to us for our benefit. Bible worship directs us to our God and his great salvation as revealed in his word. By it the Holy Spirit draws people to trust the Lord Jesus Christ and serve our Creator and saviour. I hope to say of few more things about the Bible and matters of worship in days to come.

Dead in Adam, alive in Christ — Romans 5

The apostle Paul had previously written in this letter about the gospel – the good news – that comes to people who had rebelled against their creator, and of the ugliness and universality of human sin and death (chap 1). He has also written of the absolute failure of all people to keep God’s law, whether Jew or Gentile (chap 2 and 3), and of God’s free mercy that comes to people by means of faith – by trusting the promise of God regarding His Son, Jesus Christ; what he has done in the place of sinners for sinners (Chap 4).

This Jesus, Paul tells us, lived, died and rose again to reconcile to God (justifying) those who trust Christ (Chap 5a). Paul now goes on to show how this work had to be done by Christ and none other. It is a recap with a twist.

To begin with, we need to know that sin is not a just a feeling of guilt; it is a reality. Sin is, as John tells us, a transgression or breaking of God’s law. From sin comes death as the judicial punishment for breaking God’s law. This death is not just a separation of soul from body, but it is ultimately a great separation from our God, the creator and sustainer of everything. So death must be seen as spiritual as well as physical. Again, death is as universal as sin. All have sinned, so all will die. Death is what sin deserves.

In this section of Romans 5, sin is not referring to our personal wrong doings. Rather, it refers to that one sin of Adam, the first man, and its consequences. By this one sin of Adam, he and all of us were made subject to death, both physical and spiritual death.

Adam sinned against a law that existed before the law of Moses. He was told that “of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die.” Adam rebelled against this law, and his sin was imputed [regarded as belonging] to all his children. The condemnation of Adam’s sin passed from parent to child. Adam acted as our representative. In the matter of this law of Genesis 2 it was Adam alone who would keep it or not. As he failed, so we failed in him. Our behaviour ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is irrelevant in as far as the imputation of Adam’s sin is concerned. All people are under the same condemnation, since we are all regarded by God as guilty of Adam’s law breaking.

Our natural tendency to do wrong (disobey God) is a symptom of this reality. We personally agree with Adam. By birth we are IN ADAM. We are followers of him. The first man, Adam, represented us all. His success would have been ours too. His failure is surely ours as well.

Paul gives us the hint as to where this is going. Adam was the representative of all people. Christ, the one who was promised (Gen 3:15) is the second Adam who also represents His people. The principle of one acting for many is a Bible idea. For example, the story of David and Goliath in the Old Testament. If David wins the fight, Israel wins. If David had lost, Israel would have lost.

Adam and Jesus Christ, the second Adam, are the same, but different. The first Adam sinned.  Death, which is the necessary judgement upon sin, came upon all people without distinction because their father and ‘head’, Adam, sinned. The second Adam, Jesus Christ, lived his good life as a replacement for the bad lives of his people, and he died the death that his people deserve to die. The life that his people receive by faith comes because of Christ’s substitute life and death. It comes by grace, the unmerited, unlooked-for, unexpected mercy from the God we had all offended.

This mercy comes to us by Grace through Faith; to all who trust Jesus Christ. As surely as the first is true (that is, death came to all by Adam’s sin), so all the more sure and true is the eternal life that comes by the gift of the righteous one, Jesus Christ. Just as Christ is risen, never to die again, so too are his people brought to everlasting life by the new birth. By this new birth, people become Christians and followers of Jesus.

This passage must be read in the light of previous chapters of Romans. We are all under sin – Adam’s and our own — so no one can plead their own righteousness or goodness. The Law of Moses (written on our hearts but ignored) came not as a fix-it for sinners. It is not a do-it-yourself instruction book that sinners can use to make themselves right with God.  The law, for an un-reconciled person, comes to convince us of our sinful condition and to show the absolute necessity of the work of Jesus in our place. We must come to him by faith if we are to be at peace with God.

Now, a righteousness apart from the Law of Moses is revealed in Jesus Christ. Just as the doing of Adam brought everyone into a state of sin and death, so the doing of Jesus Christ brings his people from death into a state of life and righteousness. Just as the sin of Adam was imputed to us and we became sinners as a result of Adam’s sin, so to, as a result of Christ’s good life and replacement death, we are declared to be good on the basis of Christ’s doing, not our own. We didn’t do anything to become sinners, but simply followed our head, Adam, who bought sin and death to us. In the same way, Christians didn’t do anything to become the children of God. Their head, Jesus Christ brought his righteousness and redemption to his people, and gave it to them for free. Just to say, Romans Chapter 6 takes up the theme that “imputation leads to imitation”. The law that once condemned in Adam, becomes a our friend in Christ.

Introduction to Galatians Chapter 1

Paul was not a boastful person. Not when he was writing his letter to the Churches of Galatia. Not boastful any more, at least.

There had been a time when Paul was very proud and boastful.

  • born an Israelite,
  • of the family group of Benjamin,
  • a Hebrew of Hebrews. A son of Father Abraham.
  • trained as a Pharisee by a famous teacher, Gamaliel.
  • one of the religious elite.

He believed in an Almighty God who was holy and just.

He believed this God would raise the dead and bring the World to judgment.

He believed that he had kept the law and was legally blameless.

He thought that he would escape the condemnation of hell.

All this Paul once believed and was proud of it all.

Until he was confronted by Jesus Christ.

In this Paul has been very like the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit everlasting life – the young man probably wasn’t asking for advice, but expecting congratulations. Jesus shook the young man to his core by showing him that he didn’t qualify for everlasting life, and that he couldn’t qualify – he was too much in love with himself and his sin.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that the 10th commandment – by God’s grace – finally convinced him that he was a law breaker, a sinner, an enemy of the God who made him.

He had thought that because he could not recall murdering anyone, that he was not a murderer, and that if he hadn’t stolen any thing, then he was not a thief.

But yet he discovered that he was a law breaker – because he was covetous – that is, his thoughts and desires were not right – in fact they were utterly twisted. He envied his neighbour. He wanted what they had and was not content with what God had given him.

From that point he understood that the law was spiritual as well as physical, that in his heart and mind he had broken God’s law continually from his youngest days.

If he were ever to have life instead of death, he would need to be rescued by someone other than himself.

To his initial horror, Paul discovered that the only one who could rescue him was the very one against whom he had been fighting so ferociously.  It was Jesus Christ, whose followers he had arrested and thrown in prison and testified against so they might be killed.

Yet Paul found that this Jesus, the one whom he had hated and wronged with great passion, had rescued him from a just condemnation and everlasting punishment. Then this same Jesus made him a messenger of grace and mercy to other people who themselves were proud rebels.

This is where the letter to the Galatians starts. Not with a boast about Paul’s greatness, but an assertion of the greatness of the one who sent him to bring Good News to them.

Continued in part 2.

Galatians Chapter 1 part 2

Continued from part 1.

This is how Paul’s letter to the Galatians starts. Not with a boast about his own greatness, but an assertion of the greatness of the one who sent him to bring Good News.

Paul made this point directly to oppose other messengers who had been sent by people in Jerusalem.

These came with another message. And that other message was not good news.

These men had a message, too. It was that trusting Jesus was a good thing to do, but you non-Jewish Galatians needed to become Jews as well as trust Jesus.

In this way they added to the Good News of Jesus.

For these men, the Good News was not simply a message of who Jesus Is, and what Jesus had done.

The sinner, according to these people, had to do things too, in order to complete that rescue that Jesus had begun: –

If the sinner was a male, he had to trust Jesus AND be circumcised and keep the law of Moses to be sure of salvation and freedom from judgment.

If the sinner was female, she had to trust Jesus AND keep the law of Moses to be sure that she was right with God.

Paul had no sympathy with these men or their message – their message was wrong.

Versus 1-4

An apostle – one who is sent to deliver a message for someone else.

Both Paul and these men were, in one sense at least, apostles – they had both been sent by someone else.

These men had been sent by people in Jerusalem who wanted the non-Jewish Christians to become Jews as well as Christians, so they could become ‘proper’ Christians. Paul himself had once been sent by men in Jerusalem to arrest Christians and hand them over to be condemned. But Paul’s trip was cut short.  The risen Lord Jesus gave him a completely different mission.  Jesus sent him out with Good News of how he, Jesus, rescues bad people like us. His news was not bad news of how bad people must somehow rescue themselves.

So Paul was no longer proud; rather he was profoundly and happily humbled.  The Lord Jesus had rescued him from sin and the death he deserved, and his job was to tell others that they too can enjoy the benefits of this same rescue, which comes simply and only by trusting Jesus Christ.

But, if Paul was now so humble, why did he insist on his being sent by Jesus, and not by mere men, or by means of men, but by the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead?

Well, it wasn’t to impress the Galatians with his own importance, but to impress upon the Galatians that the authority for his message did not came from impressive people in Jerusalem.

His authority to speak came from the eternal God whom we all have offended.

God’s message is about Jesus Christ, about what God has done in order for people to be saved from their sin and death we deserve.

God’s message is not at all about what we must do to save ourselves.

So Paul puts this reality right up front in his letters.

Grace (which is the love of God) and peace (which replaces our continuing war against God and creator) comes by Jesus Christ. How? Jesus Christ acted for us. He gave himself for our sins – that is, he took our place in the judgment of the cross. He became our sin bearer.

We deserved to die, but the eternal Son of God became a human being, and as God and Man became our substitute – the condemnation of Jesus and his death on the cross for our sins is regarded by God as the final condemnation and death of all those who trust him.

The death and curse that all people deserve was removed at the cross for God’s people – for those who come to trust Jesus Christ.

This is God’s will for our salvation.

There is no other way to be safe from God’s judgment except the way God has provided.  Because God has acted in Jesus, there is nothing more to be done. Jesus Christ did it all for his people.

So, there is no more judgment for those who trust Jesus, nothing more to achieve.

All glory goes to our God for his mercy to us.

Continued in part 3.

Galatians Chapter 1 part 3

(Continued from part 2)

Though Paul was no longer proud, he was greatly distressed and amazed.

The Galatians had messed up big time.

For example, in contrast to the Galatian church, the church at Corinth had Christian people who were involved in all sorts of wrong doing.

  • The church was splitting into rival tribes over who was the best minister.
  • Some of them were in incestuous relationships.
  • Others were suing one another and dragging each others dirty linen through the pagan court system (The ancient Greek legal system was at heart Character assassination – “This is my brother in Christ — the dirty rotten fink”)
  • Others were hanging out at the local pagan temples and getting too much involved with the seamy side of things there.

But Paul managed to write a letter to the Corinthians that began with assurances of his prayers for them and his thanks to God every time he remembered them. But you see, as wrong and as bad as their behaviour was, and as much as Paul would tell the Corinthians to stop doing these bad things, Paul understood that they had not abandoned the Gospel message. The church was just not living the right way in response to it.  The situation was wholly different in the Churches of Galatia.

The Galatians church people  were most likely very moral. To the observer, they were probably regarded as model citizens, but they had abandoned the good news of Jesus Christ for another gospel, which is not another of the same kind, but a false kind of gospel.

Those men from Jerusalem had got it into their heads that, as good as the work of Jesus Christ was, it just wasn’t enough to make them proper Christians.

These men told them that after trusting Jesus, there was still something for them to do in order to  complete the job.

The Galatians might not even have seen it that way, but Paul correctly characterised the Galatians’ acceptance of this false message as an abandonment of Jesus Christ.

“How have you so quickly abandoned Jesus Christ, the one who has called you by grace?”

You have left your own safety for another Gospel, which is not another.

Two different Greek words are used here for ‘another’. One is ‘allos’, another of the same kind, the other word is ‘heteros’, which means another of a different kind.

The men from Jerusalem had told the Galatians that adding a bit of their own efforts to complete the saving work of Jesus was the same type of gospel as the one Paul had brought.

It was, they said, another of the same type – allos – it was just a different way of expressing it.

But Paul knew it to be another of a completely different type – heteros.

In fact, their message was not good news at all – it was bad news.

  • What Jesus did was not good enough (very bad because completely wrong)
  • What you do MIGHT be good enough if you try hard enough (very bad because completely wrong –  it leaves non-Christians in their lostness, and it puts unbearable and unnecessary burdens on people who are Christians.

This is a very serious matter – one of life and death.

This is way Paul said, “If anyone [we or an angel from heaven] should bring a gospel to you beside the one you had received, let that one be accursed”; that is, be utterly condemned by God.

The good news is that God was in Christ, reconciling sinners like us to himself. Trust Jesus alone – his good life, his death in the place of sinners, and his rising from the dead – as all you need to be accepted by God to have everlasting life. That is the Gospel.

As far as our salvation is concerned, what we do is irrelevant – doesn’t make a fig of difference. The reality of who Jesus is and what he has done gives life to those who trust him. Living thankful lives in the light of this mercy is true freedom in this wicked world.