Archive for January, 2010

The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology

Posted on 30. Jan, 2010 by .

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This book by my friend John Ronning is one of the best works I’ve read on Christology.  Where did the “logos” title from the Gospel of John come from? Ronning makes the most convincing argument I’ve come across that the “Logos” title was developed from the Aramaic Targums, not from Philo.  The biblical exegesis in this book is stunning, particularly the connections Ronning makes between the Old Testament and John’s gospel.  Another title for this book could have been “And YHWH became flesh.”  I think the translations of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek are all done by Ronning himself.  You can get a preview at google books here.  Interestingly, Thomas Goodwin made a similar argument many years ago, but without the detail that Ronning goes into.

For Goodwin, the title of ‘the Word’ (ho logos) is not a reference to Christ being the thought or counsel of the Father’s mind since this ‘inclines too much unto the Notion of Plato, and other Heathen Philosophers’ (Of the Knowledge, 60). Goodwin is not unaware that the logos title had been used before John’s time by various Greek philosophers. However, in Goodwin’s mind, John refers to Christ as ‘the Word’ (logos) not because of Greek influences but because of the evidence in the Old Testament itself.

As a result, both Philo and Plato, by using the terminology of ‘ho logos’, are guilty of stealing ‘their knowledge from the Jews, and vend[ing] it as their own’ (Ibid, 62). Goodwin shows that the title, ‘the Word’, was used by the Jews, as a reference to the Messiah, in the Aramaic Targums, what Goodwin called the ‘Caldee Paraphrasts’ (Ibid). So, for example, Goodwin quotes the Isaiah Targum (Isa. 45:17) which makes several references to the divine Word (Memra). Hence, ‘Israel is saved by the Memra of the LORD with an everlasting salvation’. The KJV, based on the Masoretic Text (MT) in the OT, reads: ‘But Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation’ (Isa. 45:17). Moreover, the MT text of Hosea 1:7 (… and will save them by the LORD their God …) is transliterated by the Aramaic Targum as ‘I will redeem them by the Word of the Lord their God.’

Referring to Christ as ‘the Word’, then, is Christologically loaded in terms of his divinity because of how the Aramaic Targums make use of the title, ‘the Word’ (Owen, 21:354). Not only, then, does the immediate context of John 1 show that Christ is the divine Word who existed in eternity, but the very fact that John calls Christ ‘the Word’ is evidence in itself for the deity of Christ because of how the Jews would have understood such terminology.

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Westminster Assembly Project & Reformation Heritage Books

Posted on 28. Jan, 2010 by .

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The Westminster Assembly Project, best known for the edition of Assembly minutes and papers to be published by Oxford University Press, has now entered an extensive publishing agreement with Reformation Heritage Books.

John Bower has joined historian Chad Van Dixhoorn in launching three new series of books by the Westminster Assembly, and one series of new and classic studies on the Assembly, all being published by Reformation Heritage Books. It is hoped that both texts and studies will stimulate further research in the Assembly and the religious dimension of English civil war politics. Certainly future publications on British post-Reformation theology and Puritanism will be enriched by these publications, briefly described here.

Principal Documents of the Westminster Assembly. This series will produce the six chief works authored by the Assembly for covenanted uniformity of religion in England: the Confession of Faith, Larger Catechism, Shorter Catechism, Directory for Public Worship, Directory for Church Government, and The Psalter. Each volume will contain a historical introduction, a critical text, and multi-column comparisons of original manuscripts and early editions. The inaugural volume, The Larger Catechism, has been prepared by John Bower and scheduled for a launch in March 2010.

Writings of the Westminster Divines. The aim of this series is to provide scholarly editions of texts by Westminster Assembly members and commissioners. Volumes will include previously unpublished manuscripts as well as republications of rare editions. Carefully determined editorial standards will be used to ensure an authoritative product that is accessible to modern readers, while remaining reliable for students and scholars.

Westminster Assembly Facsimiles. With this new series, Reformation Heritage Books and the Westminster Assembly Project are providing electronic and print access to publications by Assembly members in their original form. Free PDF downloads will be made available through the Westminster Assembly Project website. The same text can be purchased for your collection in paperback and hard cover from Reformation Heritage Books.

Studies of the Westminster Assembly. Complementing the primary source material in the other series, the Assembly studies will provide access to classic studies that have not been reprinted and to new studies, providing some of the best existing research on the Assembly and its members.

For more information visit the Westminster Assembly Project. Be sure to check for more information on and about this project at our RHB website and blog.

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Sermons of a “German Puritan” on the Apostles’ Creed

Posted on 27. Jan, 2010 by .

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My friend and colleague, R. Scott Clark, is general editor of what is going to be a great series of books, “Classic Reformed Theology,” published by Reformation Heritage Books (Grand Rapids, Mich.).

Volume 1 came out last year: William Ames, A Sketch of the Christian’s Catechism, trans. Todd M. Rester, introduced by Joel R. Beeke and Todd M. Rester. In this volume we have a fascinating series of sermons on the Heidelberg Catechism from an Englishman exiled to the Netherlands. For those of us who are required to preach catechetical sermons this is a treasure trove. For those with scruples about this practice, Ames shows how the doctrines of the Catechism can be responsibly preached via an exposition and application of Scripture.

I am excited to announce that Volume 2 is now in-print: Caspar Olevianus, An Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, trans. Lyle D. Bierma, introduced by R. Scott Clark. This volume is a series of sermons Olevianus, one of the key contributors to the Heidelberg Catechism, preached on the Apostles’ Creed. Here are a couple of snippets to whet your appetite:

From the “Introduction”

It is certain that there are two spiritual kingdoms, even in this world: the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. Every person necessarily belongs to one or the other here in this life . . . there are two spiritual kingdoms even in this world. The one is the kingdom of Christ, made up of all who repent, believe in Christ, and are baptized in His name. It also includes their children, unless, when they are grown, through unbelief they reject the benefit that is offered. But the other is the kingdom of Satan and darkness, made up of all who do not repent and do not believe in Christ. Some of them are not baptized but hold baptism in contempt, like the Turks and Jews. Others are baptized but are nevertheless impenitent and unbelievers. Although they are baptized and join themselves to the visible church, nevertheless they remain in the kingdom and power of darkness until such time as they are converted and believe (Matt. 28; 1 Cor. 6:8–10, 12; 2 Cor. 12:21) . . . Let us then see what the kingdom of Christ is, which begins in the faithful in this world and is also called, with the same meaning, “the kingdom of God” and “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 3:2; Luke 4:43; 7:28). The kingdom of Christ in this world is the administration of salvation by which Christ the King Him- self outwardly, through the gospel and baptism, gathers to Himself and calls to salvation a people or visible church (in which many hypocrites are mixed). To those in this congregation who have always been His elect, He Himself admin- isters and bestows that salvation to which He calls them. He makes the outward call efficacious, granting them the repentance and faith by which they respond to the One calling them. Those He calls in this way He also justifies, not imputing their sins to them. And those He justifies He also glorifies, purging them daily more and more of their sins, and training, forming, and perfecting them in all godliness, righteousness, and eternal life so that the glory of Christ the King may shine in them (pp. 9, 10).

On “I Believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth”

The purpose of this description is that once the nature of God is known, we might embrace Him through faith as our only and greatest good, and be afraid to offend Him, so that through this true faith and fear, or repentance, God might be glorified in us. For when we hear, first of all, that God, who by an eternal covenant has promised to be our God, is intelligent, wise, eternal, good, righteous, merciful, etc., we rightly conclude from the form of this gracious covenant that He not only is this way by nature but also wishes to show Himself as such to us believers—and to do so by an eternal covenant, even though all creatures might seem to convince us otherwise. Whoever knows this nature of God, by whom one is received into the covenant, has ample basis for believing in Him and for living by faith according to the will of God (p. 24).

On “He Descended Into Hell”

The true meaning of the article “He descended into hell”

There is no doubt that the descent of Christ into hell is the lowest and most extreme degree of His humiliation, by which He humbled himself for us and, indeed, emptied Himself completely (Acts 2). We should now look at what kind of humiliation this is by examining several meanings of the descent into hell. These are the various meanings: Hell can mean grave; second, it can be translated as “place of the damned”; third, it can mean extreme anguish (Ps. 18[:4–6]; 1 Sam. 2[:6]); fourth, it can be taken for the condition in burial and what follows burial—that state of complete disgrace, as those who have been buried lie oppressed and, as it were, swallowed up by death (Isa. 14:11, 15–17). With respect to the first meaning, we have already said why the descent into hell ought not to be taken simply as burial in this article. We have also shown that the second meaning, descent to the place of the damned, does not agree with this article. That leaves two meanings, anguish of soul and that state or condition that follows both that anguish and the burial itself (p. 88).

The fruit of Christ’s descent into hell

The summary, therefore, of both meanings of Christ’s descent into hell (the latter of which better fits the order of the articles of faith) is that Christ had to be utterly humbled, or forsaken by God, so that we would not be forsaken by God ourselves. We see that, first, in that His divine nature did not exercise its power, so that He might experience the pains of death not only in body but also in soul.

Second, that same Word, or divine nature, rested and for a time did not energize the lump [of flesh] that it had assumed, but allowed the body to be divided from the soul for three days while it was in the hands or power of the grave. This was so that in every way Christ might be truly humbled for us, to the end that we might be certain that not only are our souls delivered from the pains of death, but also all disgrace is expelled from our bodies through this Christ and by His merit. It is also by His efficacy that it will be finally and fully taken away, even though for a time our bodies are kept enclosed by the grave, seemingly conquered by death.

Finally, believing minds have so much more trust in the love of God and in the complete expiation made by the Son when they see how humble and abject (yet without sin) Christ became, and when they see more clearly what their salvation cost Him (p. 91).

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New Book

Posted on 06. Jan, 2010 by .

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Just a shameless plug for a friend, David VanDrunen, whose book, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Eerdmans, 2010), traces these themes in various thinkers including the “Puritans.”

Now back to our normal programming (or lack thereof).


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