Category Archives: tbs

Death, Parousia and the Christian Life (GW Article)

The Gospel Witness, published by Jarvis Street Baptist Church in Toronto, is a great magazine that I recommend subscribing to. Typically it offers three articles on a given theme as well as one or two book reviews and news updates for things going on in the Jarvis Street/Toronto Baptist Seminary nexus. Contributors have included theologians like Carl Trueman, Fred Zaspel, Michael Haykin (one-time editor), Sharon James, Richard Gaffin, and a whole host of other well-known evangelicals. One of the distinguishing features of the magazine is that, alongside writers we are familiar with, pastors and church leaders also have opportunity to contribute. I am thankful that over the years I have been given the chance to publish a couple of articles.

In the March 2011 edition I was asked to share my thoughts on the eschatological hope found in 1 Thessalonians, a book of the bible that the issue is dedicated to looking at. The article is called “‘Since We Belong to the Day’: Death, Parousia and Christian Life” The Gospel Witness (March 2011), 6-10. It is written to highlight the encouragement Christians are to take from the promise that Jesus is returning, instead of over-emphasizing the details of the end times calendar.

To subscribe to The Gospel Witness go here.


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Ussher Thesis Abstract

The Gospel Witness published a copy of my master of theology thesis abstract in their October edition, I reprint it here:

Whenever I have a conversation about James Ussher (1581-1656), the subject of my recent master of theology thesis, the question about his view of the earth’s age comes up. Ussher is famous for nominating October 23, 4004 BC as the date that God created the heavens and earth. While biblical genealogy was an important aspect of Ussher’s studies, it would be an over-simplification to think that his Annals of the World is his most important work. In the nineteenth-century Ussher’s Works were compiled into seventeen volumes that ranged across a large territory of scholarship including church government, Pelagianism, the Septuagint, and the veracity of the writings of Ignatius of Antioch. Ussher was a biblical-theologian as well as a master text-critic, philologist and patrologist.

It is this last aspect of Ussher studies that I worked on for my thesis. In particular, I studied a document that he published entitled Immanuel, or, The Mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God (1638). This short tract is a clear exposition of the person and work of Christ that is well-situated within the western theological tradition. My purpose was to trace the patristic language of Immanuel, evaluating how Ussher used key terminology that was crystallized at the Council of Chalcedon (451). In addition to this I also produced a critical edition of Immanuel comparing the eleven editions that had been published in Ussher’s lifetime.

This work was completed under the supervision of Michael Haykin, to whom I am profoundly thankful for all of the help that he offered. My readers were Dennis Ngien of Tyndale Seminary and Crawford Gribben of Trinity College Dublin. My experience both in terms of the research/writing and the defence was exceptional. I experienced great love and care from my brothers in Christ as I was challenged and encouraged in terms of the work I had done and the future course of continued education that I should take. Thank are also due to TBS for providing an environment where learning and piety are wed that makes academic studies profitable for both the academy and the church.

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Filed under crawford gribben, dennis ngien, ignatius, james ussher, michael haykin, puritans, tbs

Alexander Carson on Baptism

The recent issue of The Gospel Witness has kindly published an article of mine entitled “‘Defending Truth at Every Expense’: Alexander Carson (1776-1844) on Baptism.” I’ve uploaded a PDF of it: Alexander Carson on Baptism.

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Exegesis for Preaching

Seminary training, though not absolutely necessary, is extremely helpful for pastors and church leaders. While it is good to be in an academic environment amongst peers who share in the educational quest, and while exposure to theology, biblical studies and history expand our horizons, probably the most important reason to go to seminary is to learn the biblical languages.

This past year I have been preaching my way through 1 Peter and am struck each and every time I do sermon prep how helped I am from my three years of Greek under the tutelage of Clint Humfrey and Pierre Constant at TBS. I am not at all adept at languages and found Greek to be a struggle, but I am so glad that it was a course requirement! It has proven to be the backbone to how I handle my text for preaching.

As a help and as an apology for Greek exegesis in preaching, I thought that I would share the method that I learned at TBS and demonstrate a little of how I use it in regular ministry.

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Thoughts on the Warren/Piper Issue

I first read large chunks of Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life quite a number of years ago after a friend had publicly recommended it as an important book for all Christians to read. I was frustrated by it, not only because of its theology, but the style was pedestrian and Warren’s use of Scripture wasn’t sound. The first time that I read parts of The Purpose-Driven Church was for a course on pastoral leadership at Toronto Baptist Seminary. No, no, don’t worry! TBS does not advocate the “purpose driven” model for ministry. We had to read it as an example of bad methodology. The critiques offered by my fellow students and the professor were really helpful in thinking through issues of pragmatism in the church.

Recently John Piper, whose ministry philosophy is at polar opposites with Warren’s, has invited the pastor of Saddleback Community Church to speak at the upcoming Desiring God conference. There has been quite a lot of heated debate generated in the blogosphere over this one — no wonder!

The two best places to turn for a good perspective on Warren and the whole Piper invitation is Tim Challies’ recent post and the link that he provides to Michael Horton’s article at Modern Reformation. Tim, as usual, offers balance and helpful criticism. He argues that Piper made a mistake by inviting Warren because of the confusion it will cause. I wholeheartedly agree. Horton’s article is a great piece on Warren’s overall theology and chameleon-like ability to look Calvinistic in one context, and Emerging in another.

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The Athanasius of Our Century: Thesis Proposal

I just found out today that my thesis proposal for the master of theology program at Toronto Baptist Seminary was accepted. I will defend it (DV) in either late March or early December. My supervisor is Michael Haykin and hopefully Crawford Gribben and Dennis Ngien will be readers. This is all very exciting!

“The Athanasius of Our Century”: An Evaluation of James Ussher’s Immanuel In Light of Patristic Christology

Though he is relatively unknown today, James Ussher (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh was one of seventeenth-century Britain’s most influential figures. If in the twenty-first-century Ussher is known at all, it would largely be due to his famous chronology Annales veteris et novi testamenti (1650-1654), a work of immense learning for its day and still popular amongst young earth creationists for its dating of the world’s creation at 4004 BC. If Ussher is to be remembered only for this singular writing project and not for his other important contributions to the academy and the church, the annals of history have played him a bad card. Ussher was nothing short of a prodigious scholar and committed churchman and it is this reputation that should be retained.

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Hebrew Vocab Pronunciation

My good friend Mark Francois is a PhD student in Old Testament at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto. He also teaches Hebrew at Toronto Baptist Seminary. Mark has a working knowledge of around eleven languages, both ancient and modern, and is only in his mid-twenties! Anyways, as an aide for TBS Hebrew students, he has posted mp3 files of Hebrew pronunciation at the seminary’s website {here}. He even sings a Hebrew alphabet song!

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TBS Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

TBS Renovations

TBS Renovations

This past year has seen a major overhaul to the residences at Toronto Baptist Seminary. It’s sad to see the houses change, in a way, because I lived there for three years. I actually haven’t gone in the buildings to see them from the inside yet – I want the thrill of the surprise.

To celebrate their opening, TBS is planning an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony on August 29th from 10:30am – 1:30pm.

The itinerary is:

10:30am – 11:45am – Tours
12pm – 12:30pm – Ribbon Cutting
12:30pm – 1:30pm – Lunch

If you can make it, please come. It’s a great way to celebrate the blessings of God together.

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Ussher and Me

I first heard of James Ussher in 2003 when Dr. Haykin gave me a copy of Crawford Gribben’s The Irish Puritans: James Ussher and the Reformation of the Church. Dr. Haykin and I have a shared interest in things Irish, so it was a welcomed gift. I remember travelling to Grand Rapids with Dr. Haykin in the winter of ’03 and we stayed at Joel Beeke’s in-laws, where I read The Irish Puritans before bed. I also took advantage of Dr. Beeke’s library and read through some of Ussher’s Works at the old PRTS library. As well, a PRTS student named Terry Klaver had also read Crawford’s book and we had some good discussions. Afterwards, Terry sent me a PDF of Ussher’s Body of Divinity in the mail (now published by SGCB). If memory serves, Dr. Haykin and I also spent some time at the Calvin Seminary library where I read up on Irish church history.

In the late spring of 2004 I had the joy of going with Dr. Haykin to Britain. While in Ireland, I got to meet Crawford and his wife Pauline. Crawford was nothing but encouraging in the hopes of recruiting another Ussher fan. I was thrilled and this sealed the deal for me in terms of developing an interest in Ussher. I think touring Trinity College, Dublin with Crawford solidified things. Later he and I met up again where he gave me a DVD containing PDF’s of Ussher’s Works. I feel like so much has been handed to me. God is faithful.

In the summer of 2004, as a bachelor-party gift, Greg McManus gave me a copy of R. Buick Knox’s biography of Ussher entitled James Ussher: Archbishop of Armagh. Greg and I had for a few years shared a strong interest in things Puritan. Greg has maintained and developed his interest in John Owen. Early on I waffled between who to study. For a while, after being kicked in the ecclesial pants by The Reformed Pastor, I thought of Baxter. Afterwards, largely due to Greg’s interest in Owen, I thought of studying Thomas Goodwin. It wasn’t until reading Crawford’s book that Ussher became a serious topic.

After dialoging with Dr. Haykin about my future, and his strong suggestion that I don’t neglect the Fathers, I came into contact with Alan Ford through email. He teaches at Nottingham and is the author of the recent definitive biography of Ussher called James Ussher: Theology, History, and Politics in Early-Modern Ireland and England. Prof. Ford suggested looking at Ussher’s debates that he had with some Jesuits in Ireland over the early church Pelagian controversy. This then set me on a journey to study Augustine and Pelagianism, which I did my master of divinity thesis on. Dr. Haykin supervised and also had me read on Ignatius of Antioch, due to Ussher’s research on the authenticity of the Ignatian corpus.

This past year I began a master of theology in Puritan history. Having written papers on the English Reformation and Puritanism, I am now officially starting Ussher studies. It is 2009 and my interests in Ussher were started in 2003. It’s been six years before I could finally do some serious study on him!! But I’m thankful to finally get here. I just polished off Crawford’s biography for the second time – I appreciate it all the more now that I’ve read it after years of study. I am currently in the middle of Knox’s biography. After this I’ll turn to Ford, though I am currently reading his book The Protestant Reformation in Ireland 1590-1641.

This summer I will go through Ussher’s Works with an eye to his writings in ecclesiastical history, particularly patristics. My thesis, due in September, will be on Ussher as a patristic historian. This will hopefully get me prepared for a doctoral thesis on Ussher and the Pelagian controversy. All of this, of course, is in the Lord’s good timing.


Filed under church history, crawford gribben, friends, james ussher, michael haykin, puritans, research, tbs

At the end of second year Greek at TBS, Dr. Pierre Constant taught us how to phrase a text in Greek. It’s very easy and profoundly helpful. In third year Greek, he went a step further and taught us to give grammatical and semantic diagrams of the text based upon the Guthrie-Duvall model. This is indispensable when trying to trace an argument or when attempting to catch the flow of a discourse or narrative.

Now (pardon my drooling) Stanley Porter of McMaster – a Greek scholar par excellence – has started an online project akin to the diagramming that I learned at TBS. It is called and it looks absolutely fantastic [HT: Church Leader Links]. Exegeting the text just got all the more fun. Check out this example taken from 1 Thessalonians 1.

Here is the project overview:

The project is a web-based initiative to develop annotated Greek texts and tools for their analysis. The project aims both to serve, and to collaborate with, the scholarly community. Texts are annotated with various levels of linguistic information, such as text-critical, grammatical, semantic and discourse features.

Beginning with the New Testament, the project aims to construct a representative corpus of Hellenistic Greek to facilitate linguistic and literary research of these important documents. These texts are then annotated through the addition of linguistic and literary features (including marking morphological, syntactical and discourse elements) following a comprehensive model currently under development. The resulting texts can be viewed and searched on this site. It is hoped that interested users will collaborate in the correction and enhancement of this annotation, and become involved in the annotation process themselves.

The key features of the project are:

  • texts annotated at distinct linguistic levels
  • the use of an XML encoding scheme to mark-up texts
  • an ‘open’ and collaborative approach to encourage the annotation and use of texts
  • an on-line tool kit to allow searching and analysis of texts
  • a forum to allow the exchange of ideas and to respond to requests for specific searches


Filed under greek, Resources, tbs

Essay: English Reformation

Here is an essay that I wrote for my first master of theology reading seminar with Dr. Michael Haykin. This seminar was on the English Reformation. The essay itself is a survey and (slight) evaluation of three contemporary historians of the English Reformation, namely A. G. Dickens, Eamon Duffy and Diarmaid MacCulloch. I did well on the paper, praise the Lord!

I’ve also linked this in the “Graphe” page (to the right) where I’m going to catalogue anything of substance that I write.


Filed under church history, english reformation, essays, graphe, me, michael haykin, tbs

Recommendations for Readings in Philosophy

I’ve been afforded the opportunity to team-teach a course on the history of western philosophy next year with Michael Haykin. I’m very, very excited about it. Out of a twelve-week course, I’ll be giving six three hour lectures. My topics will be Aristotle; Anselm/Aquinas; Descartes/Locke; Hume/Kant; Marx; Foucault.

Our textbooks will likely be:
W. Andrew Hoffecker, Revolutions in Worldview (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2007).
Anthony Kenney (ed), The Oxford History of Western Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

I was wondering what resources you would recommend for studying either the full swath of western philosophy or individual figures – mostly the ones I’ve listed above. I want to amass a good bibliography. I already have a decent collection, but the more the merrier! This includes good primary and secondary sources; critical editions; out-of-print titles; websites; audio; etc.

You’ll note here at RearViewMirror that I’ll be posting resources both for this course and for my master’s work. It’s a good place to keep everything under one hat and at hand for quick reference.


Filed under books, me, michael haykin, philosophy, tbs

Pierre Constant

Clint Humfrey has an encouraging post on TBS’s New Testament professor, Dr. Pierre Constant. I totally agree with everything that Clint wrote. I had Dr. Constant for second and third year Greek as well as for New Testament Theology and Academic Research. I know from personal experience that he is rigorous when it comes to scholarship, compassionate when it comes to students, and God glorifying when it comes to his life. He is truly an example of the theologian-pastor. Thanks Clint!

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Introduction to Presuppositionalism

Here is a paper that I wrote for Dr. Stephen Wellum’s course on apologetics last winter. It was an outstanding class – if you’re reading this and have the opportunity to take a course with Dr. Wellum, either at Southern or TBS – do it!
The apostle Paul was quite unlike the modern tourist when he wandered the streets of Athens in Acts 17. As he absorbed the bustle of the polis, the magnificent sights of Mount Olympus or the Parthenon did not captivate him. Instead of standing awestruck at the surrounding culture, Paul was “greatly upset” because he saw that the city was “full of idols” (Acts 17:16). Athens was a place of tremendous learning. It was home to a number of schools of philosophy such as Epicureanism and Stoicism (Acts 17:18).[1] It was also a city of religion. Pagan spirituality flourished in the melting pot of religious pluralism. In the diversity of philosophical and religious thought, Paul witnessed what could easily be called “pre-modern post-modernism,” to coin a phrase.
There is great affinity between the west of the twenty-first century and the Athens of Paul’s experience. Gone are the days of Christendom, where most European and North American countries were generally Christian.
[2] In the post-modern west, religion is becoming just as diverse as it was in Greco-Roman society. In a city like Toronto Sikh temples stand as tall as Christian churches and Islamic mosques. One could as easily take a university course on Wicca or atheist philosophy as they could on Reformation history.
How does Christianity fair in light of this multiplicity of philosophical and religious thought? In what way can Christianity answer the challenges posed by post-modernism and religious pluralism? As a worldview that makes an exclusive truth claim in the gospel of Jesus Christ, is there a method of commending and defending the faith in the midst of a relativistic culture?
There is a need for an apologetic method that not only dismantles unbelieving thought in all of its forms, but also offers Christianity as the only worldview that gives meaning to the world.
[3] The following essay will present the presuppositional method of apologetics as that which soundly defeats non-Christian faith while offering a meaningful alternative.
This essay will first answer the question, “What is apologetics?” It will provide a basic definition of the term and trace the various schools of apologetic thought. Secondly, it will examine the role that Cornelius Van Til played in the development of the presuppositional method. Finally, a brief survey of presuppositionalism as an apologetic strategy will be put forward, highlighting key distinctives that mark it as a unique and biblical method.

Defining Apologetics
Certain misconceptions about “apologetics” are had when one first hears the word used. Its root is “apology,” which in contemporary parlance means for a person to say that they are sorry for something they said or did. In a technical sense, the word apology takes on a different meaning.
When using apology in reference to the Christian faith its basic meaning is defensive. The word apology comes from the Greek apologia that can literally be translated as “a speech of defense, the act of making a defense.”

[4] This is the word used in 1 Peter 3:15, the classicus locus of Christian apologetics. In this verse Peter admonishes his readers, “But in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence (apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Apologetics is therefore “the discipline that teaches Christians how to give a reason for their hope.”[5] Or, more comprehensively, it is the “vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.”[6]
John M. Frame explains that there are three aspects to apologetics. First, apologetics is proof; it presents a rational basis for the Christian faith and proves it be true (cf. John 14:11). Second, apologetics is defense; it answers the challenges of unbelief (cf. Phil. 1:7). Third, apologetics is offense; it attacks the foolishness of unbelief (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16).[7] In addition to this tripartite understanding of apologetics William Edgar adds that commending the faith is just as important as defending it.[8] Therefore the command to evangelise is integral to apologetics. “Evangelism and apologetics are seamlessly linked and together function under the rubric of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).”[9]
There has been a need for apologetics since the inception of the church.[10] 1 Peter 3:15 makes the point clear as does a cursory reading of Paul’s missionary journeys in the book of Acts (see Acts 17:16-34). Apologetics played a major role in patristic history where examples can be drawn from a myriad of sources.[11] For instance, the letters of Ignatius of Antioch argued against docetic understandings of Christ;[12] Irenaeus of Lyons wrote Against Heresies listing and critiquing a wide variety of Gnostic teaching;[13] Justin Martyr dialogued with Trypho arguing for the veracity of the incarnation against Jewish presuppositions;[14] and Augustine of Hippo wrote a definitive work against paganism in the massive City of God.[15]
Once Christianity became the dominant worldview in the west, apologetics took a less prominent role. The major apologetic example from the medieval church is Thomas Aquinas who utilised Aristotelianism in his writings against Islamic philosophy.[16] It was not until the Renaissance that the apologetic task assumed a more prominent role. One thinks, for instance, of the Protestant Reformers in their debates against Roman Catholicism and in their interactions with various heretical views such as Socinianism and Unitarianism. But even so, most apologetic interface took place within a general (Christian) theistic perspective. Only after the Enlightenment did the need to defend theism generally and Christianity in particular arise.[17] With the birth of continental rationalism and British empiricism came direct attacks on Christianity as a system from outside of the faith. Well known examples can be seen in the writings of Baruch Spinoza and David Hume whose teaching severely undermined the Christian religion.[18]
In the history of Christian thought three broad schools of apologetics have arisen to answer Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment challenges.[19] They are, in no particular order, evidentialism, classical apologetics and presuppositionalism.[20]
The first school, evidentialism, is a perspective based upon an empirical epistemology. This scientifically oriented school appropriates a posteriori arguments for Christianity in a piecemeal fashion that include proofs for the resurrection, the reliability of the biblical documents and the possibility of miracles. Apologists in the evidentialist camp include Thomas Reid, Bishop Butler, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, Gary Habermas and John W. Montgomery.
The second school is commonly known as classical apologetics and is based upon a rationalist epistemology and natural theology.
[21] It is a philosophical apologetic that uses a priori arguments from causality and design as well as the ontological argument. Apologists from a classical standpoint include Thomas Aquinas, B.B. Warfield, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, William Dembski, R. C. Sproul and John Gerstner.[22]
The third school is known as presuppositionalism and is based upon a revelational epistemology and Reformed argument for the veracity of the Christian worldview. It presents Christian theology as a unit, with the Scripture as its presupposed starting point. Using the bible as their authority, presuppositionalists argue for the existence of God transcendentally. Such apologists in the presuppositionalist camp include Cornelius Van Til (its principal expositor), Greg L. Bahnsen, John M. Frame, Joe Boot and K. Scott Oliphint. Others often categorized as presuppositional are Gordon H. Clark, Edward J. Carnell and Francis Schaeffer, although their use of the term presupposition differs from that of the others.

Presuppositionalism: A Beginning
Many schools of thought have a founder and presuppositionalism is no different. In the history of western philosophy the commencement of various philosophical schools can be credited to the work of one or two industrious thinkers. For instance, René Descartes is generally credited with founding Continental rationalism and John Locke with British empiricism. In the discipline of Christian apologetics the thinker generally recognized as “founding” presuppositionalism is the Dutch-American theologian Cornelius Van Til.

Cornelius Van Til was born in Grootegast, Holland on May 3, 1895 as the sixth of eight children. His father was a dairy farmer and young Cornelius wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and do the same. As a boy Cornelius (or “Kees” as he was nicknamed) was reared in the Christian faith, memorizing the Heidelberg Catechism.
In the spring of 1905 his family sailed from Holland to America, where they settled in Highland, Indiana. From a young age Cornelius showed strong intellectual abilities and in 1914 he went to Calvin Preparatory School and College, the educational institution of the Christian Reformed Church. One of his interests was the study of philosophy.
In 1921 he enrolled at Calvin Theological Seminary where he studied the works of such Dutch theologians as Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. He was also quick to learn Greek, Hebrew and Latin.
Van Til transferred to Princeton Theological Seminary in 1922; the primary reason for this was so that he could study at both the seminary and the university. There he earned his Master of Theology and in 1927 a PhD specializing in idealist philosophy.
During Van Til’s years in school, the broader church was in turmoil over modernist theology that subjected the Bible to the scalpel of historical criticism. As a result, doctrines such as the virgin birth and deity of Christ, the resurrection and the literal fall of man into sin were denied.
[24] Such teachings resulted in various denominational and institutional splits. One such split occurred under the leadership of J. Gresham Machen, who left the Presbyterian Church (USA) to form the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He and a group of men also left their teaching positions at Princeton Seminary and formed Westminster Theological Seminary.[25] Van Til initially went to Spring Lake, Michigan to pastor a rural community church, but after much prodding from men like Machen and John Murray he agreed to teach apologetics at Westminster. There he remained until his death on April 17, 1987.
Van Til was heavily influenced in his thinking by the writings of Kuyper and Bavinck as well as B.B. Warfield, Geerhardus Vos and for a time Herman Dooyeweerd. It has been rightly said that Van Til took the best of Kuyper and Warfield and blended them into a profoundly Reformed apologetic.
The Van Til corpus consists mainly of published course syllabi, though his major scholarly contribution is undoubtedly The Defense of the Faith where he outlines the basic principles for apologetics.[27]

Presuppositionalism: Some Basic Tenets
What makes Van Tillian presuppositionalism distinct from the other apologetic schools? If presuppositionalism seeks to make proper sense of the evidence for Christian theism, is it not just a form of evidentialism? If it reasons a priori from God’s existence, is it not another form of rationalist classical apologetics? The following will outline four basic tenets that explain why the presuppositional method it is not the same as the others. This list does not pretend to be exhaustive, but will hopefully provide an adequate basis for understanding what one writer has called “kung-fu” apologetics.
[28] The four basic tenets are: 1) the antithesis; 2) point of contact; 3) ultimate commitment; and, 4) transcendental argument.[29] The fourth point constitutes Van Til’s most unique contribution to discussions of apologetic methodology. Therefore, the transcendental argument for the existence of God will merit greater attention than the other distinctives herein discussed.

In 1 Corinthians 2:14 the apostle Paul makes a distinction between the natural person and the spiritual person. In his discussion of the natural person, the descriptive term that he uses is psychikos a Greek word that means “an unspiritual person, one who merely functions bodily, without being touched by the Spirit of God.”

[30] The spiritual person, on the other hand, is described as pneumatikos meaning that he or she “possesses the divine pneuma…this enables the person to penetrate the divine mysteries.”[31] The relationship between the two is like that of black and white; they are in antithesis to one another.
The word antithesis comes from the combination of two Greek words anti, “against”
[32] and tithemi “to put or place in a particular location.”[33] The root of tithemi is thes and is where we get the word “thesis” from. Bob and Maxine Moore explain, “The antithesis of something is its opposite, reverse, negation, or antipode.”[34] Explaining the theological significance of antithesis, Gary DeMar, summarising Greg Bahnsen, says, “As Christians we must recognize the fundamental disagreement between biblical thought and all forms of unbelief at the foundational level of our theory of knowing and knowledge.”[35] Frame explains that the antithesis between believer and unbeliever is “the most conspicuous feature of Van Til’s position.”[36]
The notion of antithesis is clearly biblical, as seen in the 1 Corinthians 2:14 passage noted above. Paul could ask in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 what relation does righteousness have with lawlessness, or light with darkness? Paul here likely builds on the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 9:40 where he said that whoever is not for him is against him. And of course the antithesis can be traced all the way back to the garden of Eden after the fall where God said to Satan in Genesis 3:15 that he would put enmity between he and the woman, between his offspring and hers.
In the patristic period the antithesis between believing and unbelieving thought is apparent. Take for instance Tertullian’s famous question in chapter seven of The Prescriptions against the Heretics, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens, the Church with the Academy, the Christian with the heretic?”
[37] Likewise Augustine pits Christianity against paganism by distinguishing the city of God from the city of man in The City of God Against the Pagans.[38]
Yet the one theologian who most influenced Van Til’s teaching on the antithesis was the Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper. James E. McGoldrick explains Kuyper’s view of the antithesis,
At a time when modernists were promoting a theology of synthesis, Kuyper emphasized the antithesis that posits an impassable gap between God and Satan, between Christ and Anti-Christ, a conflict of cosmic dimensions, and he called Christians to wage a struggle against all compromises of truth in every area of life and learning. He summoned them to become part of a counter-offensive against all forms of falsehood and in so doing to confront evil with the gospel of divine mercy and grace, which Christ bestows on all who leave the kingdom of Satan and enter the diametrically opposed kingdom of God.

Following in the footsteps of Kuyper, and Machen whose contrast between Christianity and liberalism was also influential,
[40] Van Til made the antithesis one of the hallmarks of his apologetic.
For Van Til, the fundamental difference between the believer and the unbeliever is ethical. The unbeliever, having not experienced the saving grace of God in the gospel, is dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1). Because of this, certain epistemological consequences result. In the words of the apostle Paul unbelievers have become “futile” in their thoughts and their “senseless hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). This is so because they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18b) and exchange the truth of God for a lie (Rom. 1:25). Sin’s negative impact on the mind is what theologians call the “noetic effects of sin.” Van Til explains, “When we say that sin is ethical we do not mean, however, that sin involved only the will of man and not also his intellect. Sin involved every aspect of man’s personality. All of man’s reactions in every relation in which God had set him were ethical and not merely intellectual; the intellect itself is ethical.”
[41] The results of the noetic effects of sin are “that man tried to interpret everything with which he came into contact without reference to God.”[42]
The Christian, on the other hand, has been set free from the bonds of sin and has a new way of viewing the world. He or she has been “clothed with the new man” and is “being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it” (Col. 3:10). Thus, being renewed in their minds (Romans 12:2), the Christian can rightly interpret the world that God made. The indwelling of the Spirit and freedom from sin allows the Christian to “think God’s thoughts after him.” The knowledge that the believer has of God has an ethical impact. Bahnsen explains, “As man’s knowledge of God’s increases, his sense of distance does not diminish, but actually increases. He stands in even greater awe and wonder at God’s mind. He is humbled even more than when he began to learn of Him.”[43]
Therefore, according to Van Til, only a presuppositional method recognizes the issues at stake and offers a truly powerful defense of offense for the Christian faith. “In the all-out war between the Christian and the natural man as he appears in modern garb it is only the atomic energy of a truly Reformed methodology that will explode the last Festung.”[44]

Point of Contact
Many who fail to understand Van Til’s teaching on the antithesis often charge him with teaching that there is no point of contact between the believer and the unbeliever. Because of this supposed lack of common ground, the misconception is that presuppositionalism offers no rational argumentation and advises the apologist only to preach the gospel without remonstration. But Van Til does see a point of contact and therefore does believe that a rational interchange can occur between the believer and unbeliever.
The classical and evidential schools of apologetics place point of contact in natural theology. It is their contention that Van Til was misguided in his appropriation of natural theology saying, “All denials of these assumptions are forced and temporary.”
[45] What they fail to recognize is that for Van Til, natural theology must always be conditioned by the greater context of theology. According to Jeffrey K. Jue, “This context would identify the function of and relation between natural theology and supernatural theology in the pre- and post-fall environment.”[46]
Because the unbeliever’s problem is ethical, which in turn has a negative epistemological result; he or she is at odds with the truth of biblical revelation. However, the apologist does have recourse to appeal to the unbeliever on a metaphysical level. The common ground between the Christian and non-Christian is ontological.[47] This not only makes sense existentially, but also is profoundly biblical.
Experientially, the non-Christian lives in God’s world and is confronted daily with general revelation. God’s revelation is clear whether an unbeliever observes creation from the farthest galaxy to the smallest cell. The apostle Paul makes this point in Romans 1:20 when he says that God’s invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – are “clearly seen” in the created order.
Alongside revelation in the external world, the unbeliever internally has an experience of God – in conscience. Immediate knowledge of God, since conception, renders the unbeliever without excuse.
[48] This knowledge is a result of the unbeliever bearing the image of God and the implanted sensus deitatis.[49] Paul says in Romans 1:21 that unbelievers “know God” but do not glorify him. Therefore every apologetic appeal is to something already known by the unbeliever. In effect, the apologist is reminding the unbeliever of something known from birth. If by God’s grace that knowledge is brought to remembrance, then conversion occurs. However, if the unbeliever continues in hardness of heart, the apologist has still accomplished his or her task of showing the unbeliever that deep down inside, they truly know God. This only furthers unbelievers’ responsibility to believe.

The question of authority is one of the most controversial aspects of Van Til’s thought. Christian and non-Christian alike have been critical of the presuppositionalist view that Scripture is the primary authority to be appealed to by the apologist in his or her task of defending the faith.
According to both the non-presuppositionalist Christian and the unbeliever, to assume the authority of the bible at the outset of an apologetic engagement is to involve oneself in the fallacy of circular reasoning. It is argued that Scripture is one of the key issues under scrutiny and that it first needs to be proven that it is the authoritative word of God before it can be appealed to.
What both the evidentialist and the non-Christian are failing to recognize is that when it comes to issues of ultimate authority, everyone has an unproved starting point that is self-referential and taken to be self-attesting. “Every philosophy must use its own standards in proving its conclusions; otherwise, it is simply inconsistent.”

[50] Bahnsen adds, “The Christian apologist simply recognizes that the ultimate truth – that which is more pervasive, fundamental, and necessary – is such that it cannot be argued independently of the preconditions inherent in it.”[51] The real issue comes down to justifying one’s starting point. Can the non-Christian substantiate their autonomous reason as a legitimate and rational epistemic foundation? To do so, he or she must first assume reason before it can be proven to be a justifiable authority. This is what Van Til called a “vicious circle.” He could also say,
To admit one’s own presuppositions and to point out the presuppositions of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting-point, method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another.

Frame distinguishes between “narrowly circular” and “broadly circular” arguments. When arguing for the truthfulness of the biblical worldview the apologist does not resort to saying, “The Bible is true; therefore the Bible is true.” This is a “narrowly circular” argument and while it is accurate, there is more to the issue. The bible assumes its own authority (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16), but it also demonstrates that authority transcendentally because of the impossibility of the contrary. This is a “broadly circular” argument. It is the demonstration of the bible’s truth claims by appeal to evidence.
[53] For the world to make sense, the bible must be true. If it is not true, then nothing can be known. The bible provides the necessary preconditions for intelligibility in the world. While biblical revelation is the epistemic authority for the believer, it is also authoritative for the unbeliever who regularly borrows from the biblical worldview to make sense of things.
If God’s revelation is the source of all meaning, then it is necessary for it to be presupposed even to make sense of the discussion between the Christian and non-Christian over epistemic authority. In Psalm 36:9 the Psalmist declares, “In your light do we see light.” This is true for the believer and the non-believer. Van Til says, “Scripture presents itself as being the only light in terms of which the truth about facts and their relations can be discovered.”
[54] Greg Bahnsen said,
God’s revelation is more than the best foundation for Christian reasoning; it is the only philosophically sound foundation for any reasoning whatsoever. Therefore, although the world in its own wisdom sees the word of Christ as foolishness, ‘The foolishness of God is wiser than men’ (1 Cor. 1:18, 25). Christians need not sit in an isolated philosophical tower, reduced to simply despising the philosophical systems of non-Christians. No, by taking every thought captive to Christ, we are enabled to cast down reasoning that is exalted against the knowledge of God (cf. 2 Cor. 10:5). We must challenge the unbeliever to give a cogent and credible account of how he knows anything whatsoever, given his espoused presuppositions about reality, truth and man (his ‘worldview’).

Transcendental Argument
Van Til once wrote, “At the outset it ought to be clearly observed that very system of thought necessarily has a certain method of its own.”

[56] For Van Til, the only cogent method of apologetics, from the Christian perspective, is the transcendental method.[57] The most significant contribution that Van Til made to apologetics, what has been called a contribution of Copernican dimensions,[58] is the “transcendental argument” for the existence of God (TAG). The following will seek to explain TAG as an apologetic method.
Transcendental arguments are not unknown in the history of philosophy and have been used from the early Greeks to Immanuel Kant. Van Til, however, took the idea and placed it within a specifically Christian worldview applying it to the question of God’s existence. A transcendental argument asks the question, “What are the preconditions necessary for the intelligibility of reality?” This argument is an “indirect argument” that while not appealing to explicit evidences or arguments from natural theology, does seek to prove that such arguments only make sense within a Christian framework of interpretation.
Don Collett notes two ways in which the transcendental method safeguards important theological concerns. First, the transcendental method “safeguards the doctrine of God’s transcendence.”
[59] It does so by taking seriously God’s absolute character of being when positing an argument for Christianity. Traditional methods of apologetics, that assume principles of deduction or induction, make the existence of God “logically derivative” rather than “logically primitive.”[60] Because the transcendental method starts with God as the necessary precondition for intelligibility, his “logically primitive” and “absolute” character is preserved.[61]
Second, the transcendental method “alone does justice to the clarity of the objective evidence for God’s existence.”[62] Because the existence of God makes argumentation possible, his existence is necessary; it cannot be falsified. By starting with premises in the world, the evidential schools allow for the possibility of God’s non-existence. In the transcendental method, however, the argument from predication rules out such a possibility. The argument from predication is based upon the premise “that predication requires for its possibility the necessary truth of God’s existence…precluding any future possibility of using argument to falsify God’s existence.”[63]
Van Til taught a two-fold method of apologetic strategy that is well expressed in Proverbs 26:4-5, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you yourself also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own estimation.” Verse 4 argues against the idea of neutrality, explaining that if one permitted the unbeliever their most basic premises the apologetic task is lost. Verse 5 in turn requires the apologist to assume the unbeliever’s worldview, “for the sake of argument” in order to perform an “internal critique” or reductio ad absurdam, to demonstrate its irrationality. This, in essence, encapsulates the transcendental method, from the Van Til perspective.[64]
In syllogistic form a transcendental argument looks like this:
Premise 1: For X to be the case, Y would have to be the case, because Y is a precondition of X.
Premise 2: X is the case.
Conclusion: Y is the case.

To work this out in terms of God’s existence the argument would look like this:
Premise 1: For there to be intelligibility in the world, God must exist because God is a precondition for intelligibility.
Premise 2: There is intelligibility in the world.
Conclusion: God exists.

What is especially devastating for the non-believer is that for he or she to even deny the existence of God, he must first be presupposed. Take for example:
A presupposes B if and only if:
a)if A is true, then B is true
b) if –A is true, then B is true.


Therefore, God’s existence (B) is the necessary precondition for both the affirmation (A) and negation (–A) of God’s existence. The existence of God is thus an inescapable concept. In Van Til’s words, “It is the firm conviction of every epistemologically self-conscious Christian that not one human being can utter a single syllable, whether in negation or affirmation, unless it were for God’s existence.’ Thus the transcendental argument seeks to discover what sort of foundations the house of human knowledge must have, in order to be what it is.”

However brief, this paper has sought to explain the nature of presuppositionalism and the basic tenets that make it a unique contribution to the discussion of apologetics. It is hoped that the method developed by Cornelius Van Til and exposited by his followers will come to dominate the playing field of apologetic methodology. It is a consistently biblical and Reformed apologetic that offers a comprehensive critique of non-Christian thought without compromising the biblical worldview.
[1] A good introduction to Greek philosophy is John M. Frame, “Greeks Bearing Gifts” in W. Andrew Hoffecker ed., Revolutions in Worldview: Understanding the Flow of Western Thought (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2007), 1-36. A more detailed examination can be found in Gordon H. Clark, Ancient Philosophy (Hobbs, New Mexico: The Trinity Foundation, 1997).
[2] For an analysis of the changes in western thought see Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1976).
[3] This is what is referred to as “negative” and “positive” apologetics Ronald H. Nash, Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1988), 14-16.
[4] Walter Bauer, F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature 3rd Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 117. Hereafter BDAG.
[5] John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 1994), 1.
[6] Gary DeMar ed., Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen (Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision, 2007), 273.
[7] Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 2.
[8] William Edgar, Reasons of the Heart: Recovering Christian Persuasion (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1996), 15.
[9] Ian Hugh Clary, “Apologetics: Commending and Defending” in The Evangelical Baptist (Fall 2005): 10.
[10] One would argue that apologetics has been necessary since the fall.
[11] For an excellent sample of patristic apologetics see Michael A. G. Haykin, Defence of the Truth: Contending for the Faith Yesterday and Today (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2004).
[12] Ignatius, “The Letters” in The Apostolic Fathers The Fathers of the Church Volume One: A New Translation (New York: CIMA Publishing Co., 1947), 83-130.
[13] Irenaeus, “Against Heresies” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume One: The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1950), 309-602.
[14] Justin Martyr, “Dialogue with Trypho” in Writings of Saint Justin Martyr The Fathers of the Church Volume Six: A New Translation (New York: CIMA Publishing Co., 1948), 139-368.
[15] Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought ed., R.W. Dyson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
[16] Peter J. Leithart, “Medieval Theology and the Roots of Modernity” in W. Andrew Hoffecker ed., Revolutions in Worldview: Understanding the Flow of Western Thought (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2007), 140-177. For relevant section on Aquinas see 156-167.
[17] Gordon H. Clark, Thales to Dewey (1957; rpr. Hobbs, New Mexico: The Trinity Foundation, 1997), 301-394.
[18] Alister McGrath traces atheism from its origins in the French Revolution to the present in Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (London: Galilee, 2006). For the relationship between the Enlightenment and Christianity see W. Andrew Hoffecker, “Enlightenments and Awakenings: The Beginning of Modern Culture Wars” in W. Andrew Hoffecker ed., Revolutions in Worldview: Understanding the Flow of Western Thought (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2007), 240-280.
[19] With globalism and religious pluralism other faiths such as Islam and Hinduism require some apologetic interaction as well. A recent example is Timothy Tennet Christianity at the Religious Roundtable.
[20] It is worth noting that the evidential and classical approaches share enough affinity in their understanding of the nature of man and his ability to reason since the fall that they could be categorised under a general evidentialist rubric with a distinction between hard and soft evidentialism.
[21] Often the “Five Proofs” of Thomas Aquinas.
[22] A basic explanation and defence of classical apologetics is R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner and Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1984). For a review see Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 219-243.
[23] The following biographical sketch was adapted from Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Co., 1998), 7-20; John M. Frame, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Co., 1995), 19-37; and William White Jr., Van Til: Defender of the Faith (Nashville/New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979).
[24] J. Gresham Machen, The Christian Faith in the Modern World (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1936).
[25] Useful lives of Machen are Stephen J. Nichols, J. Gresham Machen: A Guided Tour of his Life and Thought (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004) and Ned. B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1978).
[26] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 596-612. For Van Til’s own view of “Amsterdam and Old Princeton” see Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Co., 1967), 260-299.
[27] A bibliography of Van Til’s writings is available in Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 735-740.
[28] Grover Gunn, Lectures on Apologetics (Greenville, South Carolina: Southern Presbyterian Press, 1997), 41.
[29] More issues could be addressed such as the rational/irrational tension, aseity, Trinitarianism, the relation of faith and philosophy, creation, etc. Space constraints require that these be left relatively ignored.
[30] BDAG, 1100b.
[31] BDAG, 837b.
[32] Barbara Friberg, Timothy Friberg and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2000), 2262. “Originally with a local sense over against, opposite.”
[33] BDAG, 1003b.
[34] Bob Moore and Maxine Moore, NTC’s Dictionary of Latin and Greek Origins: A Comprehensive Guide to the Classical Origins of English Words (Chicago, Illinois: NTC Publishing Group, 1997), 320.
[35] Gary DeMar ed., Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen (Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision, 2007), 13.
[36] John M. Frame, Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1995), 187.
[37] Tertullian, “The Prescriptions against the Heretics” in S.L. Greenslade ed., Early Latin Theology: Selections from Tertullian, Cyrpian, Ambrose and Jerome The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 36.
[38] See footnote 15 above.
[39] James E. McGoldrick, Abraham Kuyper: God’s Renaissance Man (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000), 142.
[40] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1923).
[41] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 46.
[42] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 47.
[43] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 231.
[44] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 105.
[45] Sproul, Gerstner and Lindsley, Classical Apologetics, 72.
[46] Jeffrey K. Jue, “Theologia Naturalis: A Reformed Tradition” in K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Lipton eds., Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2007), 169.
[47] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 90-95.
[48] See Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology In Defense of Biblical Christianity Volume V (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1976), 195.
[49] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 90.
[50] John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1994), 10.
[51] Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (Nacogdoches, Texas: Covenant Media Foundation, 2000), 75.
[52] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 101. Emphasis his.
[53] Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 14. Other external evidences can also be appealed to such as the reliability of the biblical text, the early dates of the manuscripts, etc. Frame says, “‘Circularity…can be as broad as the whole universe; for every fact witnesses to the truth of God.” See also Bahnsen, Always Ready, 75.
[54] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 108.
[55] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 5.
[56] Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology (Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1977), 4-5.
[57] Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 10-13.
[58] John M. Frame, “The Problem of Theological Paradox” in Gary North ed., Foundations of Christian Scholarship: Essays in the Van Til Perspective (Vallecito, California: Ross House Books, 1979), 295.
[59] Don Collett, “Van Til and Transcendental Argument” in K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Lipton eds., Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2007), .260.
[60] Collett, “Van Til and Transcendental Argument,” 260.
[61] Collett, “Van Til and Transcendental Argument,” 261.
[62] Collett, “Van Til and Transcendental Argument,” 262.
[63] Collett, “Van Til and Transcendental Argument,” 262.
[64] Collett, “Van Til and Transcendental Argument,” 262-263. See also Bahnsen, Always Ready, 61.
[65] Adapted from Stephen Wellum’s class-notes for Apologetics 323 January 2008.
[66] Adapted from Collett, “Van Til and Transcendental Argument,” 269.
[67] Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 11.


Filed under apologetics, cornelius van til, graphe, greg bahnsen, presuppositionalism, tbs

Ordinary Pastor

Last night I had the pleasure of reading Don Carson’s recent book about his dad entitled Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson (2007). I picked it up from the Sola Scriptura Ministries booktable at the Worship in Song conference hosted by Grace Fellowship Church (an awesome conference btw).
I don’t have time to get into an indepth review of the book, but suffice to say that it will prove to be an encouraging read to serious pastors everywhere. It details Mr. Carson’s time at Seminary (TBS), his call to evangelise in Montreal and pastor in Drummondville, the struggles experienced in a small church, the move to Hull and the care given to a wife with Alzheimers. This survey barely scratches the surface of the gold that is in this book. It was funny, serious, insightful, sad and encouraging. Don Carson did a great service to the memory of his father as well as to the church who can learn from it. Buy this book for you pastor for Easter!!!


Filed under books, canada, don carson, tbs

NPP and Covenantal Nomism

The following is a paper that I wrote for New Testament Theology last year at TBS. It’s only a short paper, so it’s fairly shallow. The New Perspectives on Paul are much more complex than what I’ve been able to say. Sadly, I didn’t get to emphasis the positive aspects of NPP contributions and responses by critics. So, here goes:


For twenty or so years New Testament scholarship has been embroiled in a controversy over the so-called “New Perspective on Paul” (NPP).[1] Although James D. G. Dunn in his Manson Memorial Lecture at the University of Manchester coined the term in 1982, the essential thinking of the NPP stretches much farther back into history.[2] One could trace its steps back a hundred years to the writings of Albert Schweitzer where the seed that germinated and eventually grew into the NPP could be found.[3] However, the key players that properly developed the thinking of the NPP wrote more recently. In fact, some are still writing on this subject today. This paper will highlight a select number of New Testament theologians and provide a brief overview of their thought relative to the New Perspective on Paul. The “chosen few” are Krister Stendahl, Edward P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn and Nicholas Thomas Wright respectively. After summarizing the pertinent contribution of each of the men, a brief response to the common substance of their thought will collectively be provided.

Krister Stendahl
A key claim of the NPP is historical-theological. This may seem strange considering that the regular cast of characters involved in the NPP is comprised of New Testament scholars. However, when one considers the nature of Biblical interpretation and its relevance to the field of New Testament studies, historical considerations are in order. Therefore it is wholly appropriate that a man of Martin Luther’s stature and significance be evaluated. The view of the NPP respecting Luther has to do with the Wittenberg Reformer’s struggle against the medieval Roman church. It is their contention that Luther read this struggle with sin and his relationship to a holy God back into the New Testament, in particular into Paul’s struggle with the Judaism of his time. This apparent act of anachronism by Luther has led to a great number of misunderstandings concerning such soteriological categories as justification, righteousness, works of the law, imputation, etc. This has then led the NPP to reevaluate Paul contrary to Luther and his followers.[4]
Ironically no other scholar has influenced such a view of Luther than the Swedish Lutheran Krister Stendahl. In 1963 Stendahl published an essay in the Harvard Theological Review entitled “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” in which he first argued that Augustine’s reading of Paul was impacted by his conversion experience in the infamous garden in Milan. The personal struggles felt by the bishop of Hippo not only then impacted Augustine’s understanding of Paul, but served to impact all of western Christianity that followed in the same manner.
Stendahl in turn argued that Luther’s misunderstanding of Paul was of Augustinian proportions. Like the namesake of his order, Luther the Black Augustinian, was deeply impacted by sin in his conversion experience. The result of his sensitivity regarding sin led Luther to a more individualistic understanding of salvation as per the Apostle Paul.[5] Stendahl contrasted the Reformer’s “introspective” conscience with the Apostle’s “robust” conscience and determined that the two did not match. Pre-conversion Luther had been obsessed with his sinful status before God and wrestled deep in his psyche over how he could be reconciled with his Creator. This then interfered with his exegesis of Paul and has tainted all exegesis following him.
The Apostle Paul, however, did not have such a struggle because he viewed himself as being already involved in a right relationship with God. Therefore, for any true interpretation to be had of Paul requires one to go over Luther’s head for a fresh picture. According to Stendahl, Paul’s central issue did not have to do with personal, individual sin; rather his primary concern was community relations. Specifically, Paul did not ask the question, “How am I right with God?” Instead, he asked two questions: “What happens to the Law when the Messiah has come?” and “What are the ramifications of the Messiah’s arrival for the relationship between Jews and Gentiles?”[6] Stendahl understands Paul to argue that the Law drove Jews to belief in the Messiah in order to show that Gentiles did not need to have the Law imposed upon them in order to be included in the people of God. The Gentiles have now become partakers of the promises given to Abraham, and this not through the Law but through faith.[7]
This argument of Stendahl’s, later developed in “Paul Among Jews and Gentiles,”[8] called for a reevaluation of Pauline theology in light of these two questions. Sin no longer should be seen as the driving issue for the Apostle, rather the important question was that of the role of the Law in Jew/Gentile relations. The centrality of these questions and their answers cut against the grain of all Reformational understandings of Paul. Stephen Westerholm summarizes Stendahl’s view well by saying, “For Stendahl, then, the ‘use’ of the law as ‘God’s mighty hammer’ bringing complacent sinners to despair has little support in Paul. The roots of the notion are rather in problems peculiar to the modern West. Hence the function and indeed the definition of the law need reexamination.”[9]

E.P. Sanders
Although Stendahl’s work on Luther’s “introspective conscience” was a watershed in recent New Testament studies, E.P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism[10] was an atomic bomb. Since the publication of this work in 1977, Biblical studies relating to Judaism, Paul and justification have not been the same. No respected scholar studying any of these subjects would neglect interaction with Sanders’ seminal work.[11]
Working along similar lines as Stendahl, Sanders believed that all New Testament scholarship influenced by Luther had misread Paul. More than that, they had misread Judaism. One of the significant aspects of Sanders’ work is that he brought primary Jewish sources to the fore in New Testament studies; sources that had long been relegated to quotations from secondary literature. By interacting with the Jewish writings directly, Sanders brought about a methodological revolution.[12]
When evaluating the Judaism of the Second Temple period, Sanders did not believe that a systematic theology of Jewish beliefs was to be found. Instead, he sought to determine a “pattern of religion” that gave a general characterization of Judaism spanning the years of 200 BC to 200 AD. Sanders’ main concern when considering this pattern involved two questions. The first, how did one enter the religious community and the second, how did one remain within that community. To quote Sanders himself, “A pattern of religion defined positively, is the description of how a religion is perceived by its adherents to function – how getting in and staying in are understood.”[13] Although there are soteriological elements to Sanders’ questions, they are primarily sociological in that they are primarily concerned with the nature of the covenant community.
Sanders found the answer to these questions in a pattern of religion that he has termed “covenantal nomism.” It is this pattern that has dominated NPP literature, and functioned as the foundation for its adherents. Sanders summarizes covenantal nomism in eight points.
The “pattern” or “structure” of covenantal nomism is this (1) God has chosen Israel and (2) given the law. The law implies both (3) God’s promise to maintain the election and (4) the requirement to obey. (5) God rewards obedience and punishes transgression. (6) The law provides for means of atonement, and atonement results in (7) maintenance or re-establishment of the covenantal relationship. (8) All those who are maintained in the covenant by obedience, atonement and God’s mercy belong to the group which will be saved. An important interpretation of the first and last points is that election and ultimately salvation are considered to be by God’s mercy rather than human achievement.[14]

Thus, for Sanders, according to the literature of Second Temple Judaism, covenantal nomism was the normal pattern of religion. What this meant for Sanders, and for adherents of the NPP, was that the Jews of both Jesus’ and Paul’s day looked quite different than the Jews of Lutheran interpretation. These were not Jews who were concerned with performing meritorious works to gain entrance into the people of God. Rather, as members of the covenant people, and that by grace, they were only concerned with maintaining covenant status. The significance of this for understanding Paul’s arguments with the Jews could not be overstated. The Jews of Paul’s day were not legalists who tried to merit favour with God by works righteousness; instead they had a well-developed theology of election and grace. If Paul had no reason to challenge them on the issue of works, his arguments must have been involved with an entirely different set of concerns. These concerns did not require Paul to discard his Judaism so much as it required him to renovate it. According to Sanders, Paul was still a covenantal nomist, though in modified form; for Paul, the conditions of entry into and maintenance within the covenant were different. Entrance into the covenant required baptism and maintaining covenant status required obedience to the laws of the new covenant.[15] Therefore, Paul’s problems with the Jews did not have to do with them earning salvation by works, rather, their problem was that Judaism was not Christianity.[16]
For the sake of space, only covenantal nomism has been considered here. Sanders has a greater and more complex understanding of Paul and Palestinian Judaism that cannot be evaluated in so short an essay. Briefly, these include the question of whether Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, or whether he merely received his call as the Apostle to the Gentiles; the nature of obedience within the covenant community as participationist – the “in Christ” motif; the question of whether one should argue from plight to solution or solution to plight when considering Paul; and a number of other issues. All of the above are intertwined within Sanders’ thought to provide a more holist support system for Sanders’ primary argument.
With all of this considered, the implications for Pauline studies are large. No longer are students of Paul to understand his arguments against the Jews as involving legalistic categories. Instead, words like “justification,” “works of the law,” and “righteousness” are to have sociological definitions. The Jews are not to be seen as legalists and Paul’s terminology in arguing against them are not to be understood forensically. A brief example would be the word “justification” that had traditionally been interpreted within the sphere of the law-court analogy. Now, in Sanders’ understanding, justification is about one’s status as being a member of the covenant people, not that one is declared morally righteous before God. This has had drastic consequences for how justification is now to be understood.
Sanders’ work laid the foundation for subsequent thought that has become known as the New Perspective. Any scholar who seeks to deal with the challenges brought forth by the NPP must deal with covenantal nomism and its implications. This can be done either positively in agreement with Sanders, or negatively in disagreement with him.[17] But in both cases, one still has to pay him strict attention.

James D. G. Dunn
One New Testament scholar who has paid strict attention to and has gleaned much from Sanders’ work is James D. G. Dunn, one-time Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at the University of Durham. As mentioned earlier, it was Dunn who had in fact coined the phrase the “new perspective on Paul.” This was said in light of the changes evident in New Testament scholarship since Sanders’ advocating of Jewish covenantal nomism. Although Dunn has contributed much towards the vast field of writings on the NPP, it is this essay that will briefly be explained.
Taking his cue from Stendahl and Sanders, Dunn argues that the traditional understanding of the Jews of Paul’s time is sorely lacking.[18] Agreeing with the moniker “covenantal nomism” for Second Temple Judaism, Dunn argues that the standard Lutheran hermeneutic has placed an improper grid upon Paul and has maintained a caricature of Judaism that has fed Christian anti-Semitism.[19]
Although Dunn is in substantive agreement with Sanders on the issue of covenantal nomism, he may perhaps be described as a “dissenting disciple.” Dunn believed that Sanders was essentially correct in his formulations, but that the latter did not follow through this insight with adequate consistency.[20] Contrary to what he perceived Sanders to be saying, Dunn does not believe that Paul’s switch from Jewish to Christian covenantal nomism was random or arbitrary.[21] Instead, Dunn saw Paul challenging those exclusivist Jews who identified themselves against the Gentiles by such boundary markers as food laws, circumcision and Sabbath.[22] These boundary markers are what are to be understood when Paul speaks of “works of the law.”[23] Traditionally such works were understood as being meritorious in an attempt to attain favour with God. But according to Dunn, these works had nothing to do with getting into a relationship with God. Rather, Jewish Christians were wrongly maintaining their Jewish identity instead of being one in Christ with Gentile Christians.
As with Stendahl and Sanders before him, Dunn’s thought has transformed the soteriological terminology that had been traditionally used to explain Pauline theology. Now, instead of the forensic categories of a “Lutheran” reading of Paul, words like justification, righteousness, etc., have taken on sociological connotations.[24] Alongside his predecessors, Dunn’s writings have resulted in a drastic re-reading of Paul and a reworking of the face of Biblical soteriology.

N. T. Wright
The final figure to look at in this summary of key New Perspective theologians is N. T. Wright, now Bishop of Durham. Out of all of the authors involved one way or another with the NPP, Wright is likely the most well known. He writes not only at an academic level, but has been greatly concerned with distilling theology into more popular forms for the average church-goer. Therefore, Wright’s understanding of justification as it relates to the NPP has found itself in the hands of more than just New Testament scholars. He thus cuts a wide path.
Probably the best place to obtain a satisfactory view of Wright’s teaching on justification is his popular level book What Saint Paul Really Said.[25] Wright, like Dunn, is in essential agreement with Sanders’ discovery of covenantal nomism within Palestinian Judaism. Also like Dunn, Wright has certain criticisms of Sanders, in particular the bishop does believe that justification language in Paul is drawn from law-court analogies and retains a specifically forensic definition.[26]
But Wright also assumes the veracity of much of what Sanders has argued. He believes, like Stendahl, that later Protestant orthodoxy misunderstood the essence of Paul’s gospel. Wright says, “It is not, then, a system of how people get saved.”[27] For Paul, according to Wright, the gospel is only a proclamation of “Jesus is Lord.” Gaffin summarizes: “This gospel proclamation…has four basic components: the death of Jesus, his resurrection, the crucified and risen Jesus as Israel’s Messiah/king, Jesus as Lord of the entire world.”[28] As Gaffin further comments, “Wright is emphatic that Jesus is Lord, but much less clear about how he is Savior.”[29]
Wright has, in many respects, continued the transformation in New Testament studies initially wrought by Sanders. The force with which he has redefined certain key soteriological phrases has accomplished this change. For instance, “righteousness of God” for Wright does not refer to the right standing of a believer upon being declared just before the site of God in justification. Instead, “righteousness of God” speaks of God’s covenant faithfulness to his people. According to Wright, “God’s righteousness…is that aspect of God’s character because of which he saves Israel, despite Israel’s perversity and lostness.”[30] Because righteousness is not about the believer’s status, rather God’s, and because Wright sees it as a forensic term drawn from the Jewish law-court, traditional conceptions of imputation are precluded. In what is likely his most famous statement regarding imputation Wright says,
If we use the language of the law court, it makes no sense whatever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom…To imagine the defendant somehow receiving the judge’s righteousness is simply a category mistake.[31]

When one considers the weight that confessional theology has placed upon the doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the believer, it is easy to see why many have been critical of Wright on this point.
There is much more that could be said of the theology of one so prolific as Wright. His views on justification alone, not including writings on the historical Jesus, Palestinian Judaism, New Testament interpretation, etc., are enough to fill entire monographs. Suffice it to say, in summary, Wright follows the same essential train of thought as Stendahl, Sanders and Dunn in terms of articulating a theology that strips Paul of his Reformation interpreters and sets him within the historical confines of his period without any later prejudice.

Concluding Response
A brief response to some of the common thoughts espoused by the men surveyed above is in order. Recognizing space constraints, only one or two points can be made, although much more could be said.
The obvious place to start is Sanders’ assertion that Palestinian Judaism is marked by a pattern of religion known as “covenantal nomism.” Because this is the hallmark of Sanders’ overall argument, and because it is a theme picked up by Dunn and Wright, if one were to show that covenantal nomism was not the only pattern of religion for the Jews of this period, much of the NPP’s bite would be rendered toothless. Probably the key critique of covenantal nomism has come from the first volume of collected writings called Justification and Variegated Nomism.[32] Itself a massive tome, one would do well to at least consult D. A. Carson’s introduction and conclusion to catch the drift of their essential argument.
What this volume has shown is that Sanders’ appraisal of covenantal nomism is reductionistic at best. The work of these scholars has shown a great diversity in opinion amongst the Jews of Paul’s day that go beyond merely covenantal nomism, although there are aspects of it in much of the Jewish writings. Carson’s concluding chapter summarizes the work by evaluating each essay highlighting the common conclusion that the Second Temple literature was diverse in nature. To quote Carson’s final paragraph,

Examination of Sanders’s covenantal nomism leads one to the conclusion that the New Testament documents, not least Paul, must not be read against this reconstructed background – or, at least, must not be read exclusively against this background. It is too doctrinaire, too unsupported by the sources themselves, too reductionistic, too monopolistic. The danger is that of the “parallelomania”…by which texts are domesticated as they are held hostage to the ostensible background called forth by appealing to certain other antecedent texts.[33]

In other words, although there is an element of truth to the existence of covenantal nomism during this period, it is not the only pattern of religion. One must evaluate all of the evidence, not just a selection, to determine what and who Paul was combating when he spoke of justification not being by works of law, etc.
The New Perspective on Paul has provided New Testament theologians much food for thought. Not all that its proponents have said is necessarily bad, in fact, some of their writings prove intellectually stimulating. However, that being said, certain of the NPP’s main emphases are wrongheaded and damaging. In particular the denial of key aspects of Paul’s doctrine of justification because of selective readings from the Second Temple period are especially bad. It is hoped by this author that the rise of the NPP has resulted in a positive aspect of Christian theology: that of theological development. Wherever there is error in the church, those corrective steps taken have been fruitful for the overall flavour of theology. May the positive contributions of New Perspective writers and their critics be to the glory of God and for the benefit of the church.

[1] In recognition of the diversity of opinion among scholars, it is better to think in terms of the New Perspectives on Paul. However, due to common parlance, the singular will be maintained.
[2] James D. G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), 183-214.
[3] For instance Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle trans. William Montgomery (New York: Holt, 1931).
[4] For more on the relation of Martin Luther to the NPP see Timothy George, “Modernizing Luther, Domesticating Paul: Another Perspective” in D.A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien and Mark A. Seifrid eds., Justification and Variegated Nomism Volume 2: The Paradoxes of Paul (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2004), 437-463.
[5] Now as Krister Stendahl, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” in Paul Among Jews and Gentiles and Other Essays (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Fortress Press, 1976), 78-96.
[6] Stendahl, “Apostle Paul,” 84.
[7] Stendahl, “Apostle Paul,” 86.
[8] Krister Stendahl, “Paul Among Jews and Gentiles” in Paul Among Jews and Gentiles and Other Essays (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 1-77.
[9] Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 149.
[10] E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977).
[11] Save for the notable Jesuit scholar Joseph Fitzmyer in his commentary on Romans.
[12] Guy Prentiss Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2004), 36.
[13] Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 17 (emphasis his).
[14] Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 16.
[15] Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 513.
[16] On this see Waters, Justification, 88.
[17] An example of recent scholarship that highlights both agreement and disagreement with Sanders is D.A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien and Mark Seifrid eds., Justification and Variegated Nomism Volume 1: The Complexities of Palestinian Judaism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001).
[18] Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law, 185.
[19] Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law, 61.
[20] Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law, 188.
[21] Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law, 188.
[22] Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law, 191-193.
[23] Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law, 191-202.
[24] For a summary of Dunn’s usage of such terminology in his larger body of writings see Waters, Justification, 98-109.
[25] N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997).
[26] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 97.
[27] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 45.
[28] Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., “Paul the Theologian: Review Essay” in Westminster Theological Journal 62 (2000): 124.
[29] Gaffin, “Paul the Theologian,” 125.
[30] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 96.
[31] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 98.
[32] See footnote 17 above.
[33] D. A. Carson, “Summaries and Conclusions” in Justification and Variegated Nomism Volume 1: The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism, ed. D. A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien and Mark A. Seifrid (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 548.


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R.C. Sproul on Worship Reviewed by Paul Martin

Last year I had the tremendous joy of taking Paul Martin’s course on Pastoral Leadership at Toronto Baptist Seminary. The course was quite practical and provided the students with great principles and models for leadership (who could forget the lecture on risk taking?). It was a very convicting and soul-searching semester for me; so much so that I went through much spiritual growth being confronted with my own sin coupled with the immense responsibility that pastoral ministry entails. For any who want a course in pastoral theology, take Paul Martin’s! Next semester I am looking forward to taking his “Worshipping Church” course. This is why I was happy to read Paul’s review of R. C. Sproul’s latest book on worship entitled A Taste of Heaven.
When I first became interested in things theological, in particular after I had become Calvinistic in my thinking, I read a number of Sproul’s books to great advantage. His book Chosen By God was very helpful in my early days of trying to understand predestination and election. Alongside that I read Faith Alone which provided a helpful look at the issues surrounding the relationship of Protestant and Roman Catholic thought on the doctrine of justification. Both books shaped my early theological developments.
Over the years, however, I began to grow disappointed with Sproul’s work. In particular, when I re-read the book that he co-authored with Gerstner and Lindsley called Classical Apologetics, I realised that maybe it was time to go beyond Sproul’s introductory works into something more substantial. Classical Apologetics was a text for a course on apologetics that I took in my undergrad. The professor was vehemently opposed to presuppositionalism and Cornelius Van Til. For a while, due to the professor’s influence, I was just as opposed. But as I began to read books by presuppositionalists, including Van Til himself, I realised how shoddy the Sproul, etc., book was. I won’t go into the details, but it really is a terrible book that fails to understand presuppositionalism and Van Til.
Therefore I wasn’t surprised when I read Paul Martin’s disappointment with Sproul’s latest on worship. It’s too bad in a sense because Dr. Sproul has done tremendous good in the Reformed community. His influence on the new wave of “young, reformed and restless” probably cannot be measured. I just wish that Sproul would go beyond his hobby-horses and give us something truly substantial before his days in ministry are over. Before you consider buying the book, read what Paul has to say and take his recommendation on buying Carson’s book instead.


Filed under apologetics, books, cornelius van til, don carson, paul w martin, presuppositionalism, r c sproul, tbs, worship

The Authenticity of Ignatius’ Seven Letters

I wrote this over the summer for a reading seminar I did on Ignatius of Antioch. Dr. Haykin supervised my work. I had great fun researching this very important church father and the transmission of his writings.


The authenticity of the seven letters of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (c. 34-c.107),

[1] has been debated throughout the history of the church, particularly in the seventeenth century.[2] John Milton best captures the complexity of the debate in his satirical question, “In the midst therefore of so many forgeries where shall we fixe to dare say this is Ignatius? as for his stile, who knows it? So disfigur’d and interrupted as it is.”[3] While most contemporary scholars are in agreement that the so-called middle recension of letters is authentic, there have been some who have argued otherwise.[4] The purpose of this paper will be to survey the historical scholarship pertaining to the letters and how the conclusion was reached that the middle recension is the true collection. Particular attention to the role of James Ussher will also be paid in the discussion of the middle recension.

It has been recognised since the work of Lightfoot that there are three different classifications of letters, called recensions, that claim to be of Ignatian character.

[5] In chronological order the first is the middle recension, containing the seven authentic letters, referred to in Eusebius’ Church History.[6] The second is the long recension that appeared in the latter part of the fourth century. The third, known as the short recension was not discovered until the middle of the nineteenth century. In the following the short recension will be discussed first, followed by the long and concluding with greater attention to detail regarding the middle.

Short Recension
The short recension is so-labelled because of the brevity of its form and because the letters “lack phrases, sentences, and even long sections that appear in the text of the uninterpolated seven.”
[7] It is thought to be a précis of the middle recension, specifically the letters to Polycarp, Ephesians and Romans with a paragraph from Trallians. Schoedel surmises that the summary was constructed for monastic purposes.[8] Corwin compares the letter to the Ephesians in the short and middle recensions showing that the former is one-third the length of the latter.[9]
The short recension exists only in a Syriac text.
[10] William Cureton was the first to publish it in his Antient Syriac Version of the Epistles of Saint Ignatius to St. Polycarp, the Ephesians and Romans (1845) after the letters had been brought from the Nitrian desert to the British Museum. It was Cureton’s argument that these were the genuine letters and that Eusebius had not been absolutely certain of the letters (middle recension) he referenced.[11] Both Theodor Zahn[12] and J. B. Lightfoot argued against Cureton’s thesis in favour of the middle recension. Most scholars since their time have followed in their footsteps, dismissing Cureton’s arguments.
The most decisive blow levelled by Lightfoot against Cureton is the comparison he made between the short recension and fragments of a Syriac translation of the middle recension. “It is strange that Cureton should not have been struck by the close resemblance between the Syriac fragments (S1, S2, S3) and the Syriac version of the three epistles in the Short recension (S).”
[13] Lightfoot felt that the coincidences between them were so strong that the only possible conclusion was that one had to be derived from the other. If it can be shown that the short is dependent upon the middle, “all the evidence for the genuineness for the Short recension disappears.”[14] Lightfoot observes, “Cureton failed to see the resemblance, and therefore did not enter into this question, though it was one of paramount importance to him, inasmuch as his theory of the genuineness of the Short recension stands or falls as it is answered.”[15] For Lightfoot, it makes more sense to think that a Syrian had found a copy of the middle recension and summarised it for one reason or another, than to think that it was expanded upon in forgery: “This is the more obvious explanation.”[16] Quoting C. C. Richardson, Brown says, “In the works of Theodor Zahn and of J. B. Lightfoot it was ‘convincingly shown that Cureton’s text represents a rather crude abridgment of the original letters.’”[17]

Long Recension
The long recension owns its name because it is the largest collection of letters, thirteen in all, vying for a spot in the Ignatian corpus. Schoedel claims that it first appeared in the late fourth century and was first referenced by the monophysite Stephen Gorbarus in 570 AD.

[18] The long recension contains the seven letters found in the middle recension, namely those to the churches in Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Philadelphia, Smyrna and Rome and to the bishop Polycarp. Yet, these seven differ from the middle recension as they have been interpolated with texts that expand the length of the letters. Accompanying these are five additional letters addressed to the churches in Tarsus, Antioch and Philippi as well as to a man named Hero (said to be Ignatius’ replacement in Antioch[19]) and a woman named Mary of Cassabola. There is also included a letter from Mary to Ignatius. Manuscripts for the long recension exist only in Greek and Latin.[20]
Of its style, excluding the letter from Mary, Brown observes,
These twelve letters bear a remarkable resemblance to the pattern of Paul’s corpus…There is an inner consistency of form, notably in the salutations and farewell greetings, and there is considerable homogeneity of thought, doctrine, and exhortation. The amount of writing is extensive enough for an application of the customary linguistic or stylistic tests.

This description differs widely from the letters of the middle recension, which were apparently written in haste. Corwin describes the writings as “broken, marred occasionally with uncompleted sentences and above all lacking in connected argument. Nowhere is there development of ideas in measured, logical sequence.”

[22] By noting the style Corwin does not seek to “dispose of the letters as inconsequential,” rather, the hurriedness of their style speaks to the external conditions suffered by Ignatius as he travelled in chains from Antioch to Rome. The letters of the middle recension, over and against the long, “bear the clear marks of having been written under external as well as internal pressures.”[23] Therefore, the structure and form of the long recension described by Brown militate against their being the genuine letters.
The authenticity of the long recension has been the subject of “learned and acrimonious” debate.
[24] During the fourth century when the long recension first came into existence, the church was embroiled in a monophysite controversy regarding Christ’s two natures.[25] Much of the interpolated texts were anachronistic[26] having “reflected the religious and social realities of the time.”[27] Yet the long recension came to dominate in the medieval period, displacing the authentic letters.[28]
In the seventeenth century a debate over ecclesiastical polity erupted and Ignatius was again a key figure. Because his letters were the first in the early church to offer a tripartite distinction between the offices of bishop, elder and deacon,
[29] those in favour of mono-episcopalian church order sought to establish an early date for his letters to demonstrate the antiquity of their view. Many of non-conformist background argued against this, hoping to either discredit Ignatian authorship of the letters altogether, or at least demonstrate that they were of a later date. A casualty of this debate was the spurious collection of letters and interpolations that contributed to the long recension whose true nature was realised. More detail on how this razing occurred is provided in the discussion of the middle recension.

Middle Recension
The middle recension contains seven letters, in uninterpolated form, that constitute modern collections of the letters of Ignatius

[30] and are widely recognised as authentic. They exist in Greek (Codex Mediceo-Laurentianus), Latin and Armenian versions as well as fragments in Coptic and Syriac.[31] An early reference to them can be found in the Church History of Eusebius of Caesarea, who records Ignatius as the second bishop of Antioch after Euodius with Hero succeeding him.[32] The historian also draws attention to references to the letters by Irenaeus and Polycarp in their writings.
The authenticity of the long recension held sway throughout the medieval period. In 1623, when Nicholaus Vedelius published a text that contained the middle recension with an appendix of spurious letters attached, scholars began to question the long recension. Vedelius was of the opinion that even the Eusebian letters were interpolated and were dependent upon the Apostolic Constitutions that had been written long after Ignatius lived.
[33] As much as he tried, Vedelius could not establish the original text of letters.[34] It was not until the work of an Irish primate that serious headway could be made in determining which letters were the ones that came from Ignatius’ own hand.
James Ussher (1581-1656), bishop of Armagh in Ireland, is memorialised for his Annals of the World that set the date of the world’s creation at 4004 BC. Unfortunately, Ussher’s brilliance as a theologian and historian has been overshadowed by contemporary creation/evolution rhetoric. Alan Ford, in the introduction to his biography of Ussher begins with a lengthy list of quotations from various figures in history that showered accolades upon the Irish theologian.
[35] To cite but one, Robert Huntington, Provost of Trinity College Dublin, who said that Ussher was “one of the greatest scholars, which the reformed churches or the Irish nation ever bred.”[36]
One discipline that Ussher was regarded to be an expert in was patristic history.
[37] Often engaged in debates with various Roman Catholic theologians, Ussher defended the antiquity of protestant thought by tracing it throughout the early church.[38] As the debate over the authenticity and date of Ignatius’ letters continued in the seventeenth century, Ussher was one of the key scholars to offer an opinion.[39] Most importantly, it was Ussher who made a major contribution to the final laying aside of the long recension.
In the thirteenth century Robert Grossteste (c. 1250), bishop of Lincoln, published works containing various Latin quotations of Ignatius. In the fourteenth century more quotations were to be found in the writings of John Tyssington (c. 1381) and William Wodeford (c. 1396). Upon reading them, Ussher recognised that these quotations coincided with the ones found in Eusebius, and differed with the long recension.
[40] Because English writers quoted them, Ussher concluded that the Latin text of Ignatius’ letters must be housed in an English library. His search paid off as Ussher discovered two Latin manuscripts of the letters. As he studied them, Ussher discovered that the translation was likely by Grossteste himself. Notes in the margin betrayed an English author: “Incus est instrumentum fabri; dicitur Anglice anfeld (anvil).”[41] There were also comparisons made in the notes between the Latin translation and the original Greek. Knowing that Grossteste was one of the foremost Greek scholars in England at the time, he was the best candidate for translator.[42] Lightfoot himself determined that Grossteste was the author by accurately comparing a manuscript from Tours that testified to be authored by the bishop of Lincoln.[43]
The seven letters of the Latin translation were enough to convince Ussher that six of the seven were genuine; he rejected the letter to Polycarp thinking it false. Ussher came to this conclusion because of a statement from Jerome who argued that the Polycarp letter was inauthentic. In 1644 he published Polycarp et Ignatii Epistolae offering his conclusions to the greater scholarly community. Ussher’s work was so significant, moving criticism of the Ignatian corpus “beyond the speculative stage”
[44] that at the time of publishing, Oxford University made an engraving of Ussher to be placed at the beginning of his edition of Ignatius.[45] Of his importance, Lightfoot could say, “To the critical genius of Ussher belongs the honour of restoring the true Ignatius.”[46]
In 1646 Isaac Voss published a short form of the Greek text found in the Medicean Library in Florence. Although the letter to the Romans was absent, it was later included as authentic after it had been found in a Latin manuscript of the “Acts of Ignatius” published by T. Ruinart in 1689 in his Acta Martryum Sincera.
[47] The work of these seventeenth century scholars essentially closed the door on the question of which were the authentic letters. The final work of Zahn and especially Lightfoot placed final confirmation in the minds of scholars that they can rest assured that the seven letters of the middle recension are indeed those written by Ignatius of Antioch.
[1] To the Ephesians, To the Magnesians, To the Trallians, To the Romans, To the Philadelphians, To the Smyrnaeans, To Polycarp.
[2] For a survey of this debate see Virginia Corwin, St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1960), 1-30; William R. Schoedel, “Introduction” in Ignatius of Antioch: A Commentary on the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch, William R. Schoedel, ed., Helmut Koester (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1985), 1-7; Christine Trevett, A Study of Ignatius of Antioch in Syria and Asia Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity 29 (Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992), 9-15.
[3] John Milton, Of Prelatical Episcopacy, 1641 cited in Trevett, A Study of Ignatius in Syria and Asia, 10.
[4] For instance Josep Rius-Camps, The Four Authentic Letters of Ignatius, The Martyr Christianismos 2 (Rome: Pontificum Institutum Orientalium Studiorum, 1979). For a response to Rius-Camps and others see William R. Schoedel, “Are the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch Authentic?” in Religious Studies Review 6.3 (July 1980): 196-201; and Trevett, A Study of Ignatius of Antioch in Syria and Asia, 11-15.
[5] J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers: Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp (London: Macmillan, 1889; reprinted Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989).
[6] Paul L. Maier, Eusebius The Church History: A New Translation with Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1999), 123-125.
[7] Corwin, St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch, 5.
[8] Schoedel, “Introduction,” 3.
[9] Corwin, St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch, 5.
[10] Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, 72-73.
[11] Corwin, St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch, 5.
[12] Theodor Zahn, Ignatius von Antiochen (Gotha: Perthes, 1873).
[13] Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, 104.
[14] Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, 105.
[15] Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, 105.
[16] Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, 105.
[17] Milton Perry Brown, The Authentic Writings of Ignatius: A study of linguistic criteria (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1963), xiii.
[18] Schoedel, “Introduction,” 2.
[19] Maier, Eusebius The Church History, 125.
[20] Corwin, St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch, 4.
[21] Brown, Authentic Writings of Ignatius, xi.
[22] Corwin, St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch, 19.
[23] Corwin, St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch, 20.
[24] Stephen Neill and Tom Wright, The Interpretation of the New Testament 1861-1986 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, reprinted 2003), 44.
[25] For more on monophysitism see Iain R. Torrance, “Monophysitism” in The Dictionary of Historical Theology ed. Trevor A. Hart (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2000), 378-380.
[26] Brown, The Authentic Writings of Ignatius, xii.
[27] Schoedel, “Introduction,” 2.
[28] Brown, The Authentic Writings of Ignatius, xiii; Schoedel, “Introduction,” 2.
[29] Ephesians 3.1-6.1; Magnesians 3.1-4.1; 6.1-7.2; Trallians 2.1-3.2; Smyrnaeans 8.1-9.1; Polycarp 1.2-1.2.
[30] For instance, Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers: Volume 1 Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003).
[31] Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, 73; Corwin, St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch, 4. Schoedel, “Introduction,” 3, notes an Arabic text close in relation to the Syriac.
[32] Maier, Eusebius The Church History, 123-125.
[33] Brown, The Authentic Writings of Ignatius, xii; Trevett, A Study of Ignatius of Antioch in Syria and Asia, 9.
[34] Corwin, St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch, 5.
[35] Alan Ford, James Ussher: Theology, History, and Politics in Early-Modern Ireland and England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 1-4.
[36] Ford, James Ussher, 3.
[37] J. E. L. Oulton, “Ussher’s Work as a Patristic Scholar and Church Historian” in Hermathena LXXXVIII (November 1956): 3-11.
[38] For instance An answer to a challenge made by a Jesuite in Ireland (Dublin, 1624).
[39] Ford, James Ussher, 237.
[40] Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, 76; Brown, The Authentic Writings of Ignatius, xii; Corwin, St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch, 5.
[41] “The anvil destroys the workman’s tool; says the Englishman’s anvil.”
[42] Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, 76.
[43] Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, 76-77.
[44] Brown, The Authentic Writings of Ignatius, xii.
[45] Oulton, “Ussher’s Work as a Patristic Scholar and Church Historian,” 9.
[46] Cited in Oulton, “Ussher’s Work as a Patristic Scholar and Church Historian,” 9.
[47] Brown, The Authentic Writings of Ignatius, xii.


Filed under articles, church history, ignatius, james ussher, me, patristics, tbs, textual criticism

Haykin Lecture on John Newton

The Sovereign Grace Pastor’s Fellowship will be holding it’s November 19th meeting at Toronto Baptist Seminary with Guest Lecturer Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin (left in pic above).
“The Life of John Newton” Presented by Dr. Michael Haykin
November 19, 2007 – 10:00 AM
Toronto Baptist Seminary
130 Gerrard Street East,
Toronto, Ontario, M5A 3T4
(416) 925-3263
In the chapel of Jarvis St. Baptist Church (Limited free parking is available!). There will also be an excellent (both in content and price!) booksale upstairs at Jarvis – bring your wallets!
Register in advance by calling 416.925.3263
[HT: Kerux]

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Filed under michael haykin, sovereign grace fellowship, tbs


Wow, two posts in one day! But now that the wireless connection at TBS has improved, I can sit at the table on my laptop instead of standing by the door.
Lately I’ve been struck with how often Christians (including myself in particular) lack in the area of humility. On Friday mornings I have an absolutely fabulous class on pastoral leadership that has really got me thinking on this. Both our readings and lectures have made the point that true leadership needs to be marked by humility. Last weekend TBS hosted the International Baptist Conference dedicated to the theme of worship. The first session had Joe Boot (Canadian Director of RZIM) address the issue of worship wars. What struck me about his session and the way he handled a person during the Q&A was that his life and ministry was characterised by humility. He emphasised the need to be humble, particularly when one differs with another Christian on the issue of congregational worship. He also handled a particularly abrasive questioner with a tremendous balance of humility and firmness.
Just now, as I was looking at, I caught a link to the New Attitude site where Pastor Mark Lauterbach spoke to the great need of humility when disagreeing with another believer. He provided an excellent list on how to deal with others that I found to be helpful for my own thinking and thought I’d blog it:
1. Be quick to remember that this person is one with whom I will share in eternal glory around the Lamb.
2. Review with them the foundation of our salvation, and review it in detail. Review the stunning grace of God through Christ’s death to undeserving sinners. Spend time reviewing how you each appreciate grace and what new ways it has melted your heart.
3. Be quick to hear the position of those you disagree with and make sure it is understood so well that they tell us we are stating it fairly. I like to begin my rebuttal while they are speaking but that is a mark of pride. Pride also results in false stereotypes, generalizations, and extreme examples.
4. Go to Scripture. How quickly we set aside our Bibles and simply talk theology with each other. Open the text. Walk through the text.
5. Watch against uncharitable judgments of motives, education, consistency, etc.
6. Perhaps agree to disagree. But go to learn as well as to make a point.
The fifth point about uncharitable judgments was especially helpful, as I tend to do this. It’s so easy to dismiss someone’s argument by seeking out an agenda behind it. In a formal debate that would be called an ad hominem argument. That is a fallacy.
There has been much that I have learned from Dr. Haykin as I have worked for him and observed his life and scholarship. One maxim that runs around in my head that he has said on a number of occasions is very applicable to this post and should be point number seven. When disagreeing with a member of another viewpoint (say an amil disagreeing with a dispy), never refer to the worst example of the opposing viewpoint to win an argument. So, if I, as an amillennialist were to disagree with a dispensationalist brother, I shouldn’t poke holes in the Left Behind series. Rather, I should address the arguments of dispensationalism’s best adherents. This is the height of charity and truly does seek the cause of truth. Isn’t this something that we would want others to do with us? Would I, as a Calvinist, want an Arminian brother to demonise my view because Mark Carpenter ( claims to be a Calvinist?
I pray to God that I can be more charitable towards those who differ with me and show them the love of Christ in all things.


Filed under conferences, ethics, humility, tbs