Kim Riddlebarger

The Basics—The Holy Trinity

We must affirm that there is one God who exists in three distinct persons–Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who are equal in glory, majesty and power. This is how God reveals himself in his word.

It is common to hear people claim that Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same God. Not true. Unlike those who worship Allah, or those Jews who claim to worship the God of Abraham, Christians worship the true and living God, who reveals himself in three persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It has been said that the Holy Trinity is Christianity’s most distinctive doctrine. Although in many ways the doctrine of the Trinity is beyond our comprehension, we believe this doctrine because this is how God reveals himself to us in his word, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are the one true God.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a difficult topic to discuss, because it stretches the limits of human language and logic. Despite the difficulties this doctrine presents to us, we must believe and confess that God is triune, because this is how God reveals himself to us in his word.
The three persons of the Godhead are revealed as equal in divinity, glory, and majesty. Each of the three persons are expressly called “God” in the New Testament. And to each of them is assigned the same divine attributes (i.e., simplicity, aseity, immutability), as well as the same glory and majesty which are ascribed to the other persons of the Trinity.
The Scriptures reveal that there is only one God. In Deuteronomy 6:4, Moses declares “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” In Isaiah 44:6, we read “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” This same assertion is found throughout the New Testament, even though we learn of three distinct persons in the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, Paul writes, “there is no God but one. For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many `gods’ and many `lords’—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” Elsewhere James writes, “you believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). The Scriptures are crystal clear, there is but one God.
Yet the Bible plainly teaches that although there is one God, he is revealed in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three persons of the Godhead are mentioned together throughout the New Testament. When Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, the Father declares, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” even as the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus as a dove (Matthew 3:16-17). In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands his disciples to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by baptizing them in the name (singular) of three persons of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
Read More
Related Posts:

“Contend for the Faith”: An Exposition of the Epistle of Jude (Part One)

We live in a perilous age and false teachers will come into our midst. They will seek to steal your souls (after emptying your wallets). Do you know how to spot them? Can you contend against them? If not, its time to get started. In the words of Jude, brother of James and Jesus, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

When, Not If, the False Teachers Come
One of the greatest threats to the Christian church occurs when its own pastors and teachers deny the very gospel which they’ve been entrusted to proclaim. In the Epistle of Jude, we witness a church which has been secretly infiltrated by self-appointed spokesmen for God, who were advocating the false teaching that because we are saved by God’s grace, we are no longer bound to follow the commandments of God. This is classic antinomianism.
These false teachers claimed to be followers of Jesus, while at the same time were themselves engaging in all kinds of sexual immorality closely tied to the paganism of the age. By indulging in sins of the flesh under the guise of God’s grace, Jude says these teachers were denying the gospel of Jesus Christ. Having become aware that this was going on in the churches, Jude writes a short but very powerful exhortation to Christian faithful in these churches to oppose these false teachers with everything in them, and to earnestly “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”
About the Author—Jude
The Epistle of Jude is such an interesting and important book because of the fact that Jude is the brother of James and Jesus. Based upon the list of Jesus’ brothers in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55, Jude is probably James’ younger brother. It falls to Jude to give us one of the most often-quoted but least practiced exhortations of the New Testament: “Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” In a perilous age such as ours, when far too many Christians are ignorant of the most basic of Christian doctrines, and all too prone to compromising with the paganism around us, we need to let Jude’s exhortation to contend for the faith to ring in our ears.
Although the author of this book is the brother of James–who wrote his epistle in the mid-forties of the first century, and prior to the Jerusalem Council–many argue that Jude was written as much as twenty years after the Epistle of James. This would give us a date of composition somewhere in the mid-sixties, although I think a good case can be made for a much earlier date (the early 50’s). Although the date of this epistle is somewhat up in the air, it is very clear that Jude is writing under a completely different set of circumstances than those facing his brother James. For Jude, the issue which prompts the writing of this epistle is that Christians are under the assault of deceptive false teachers. Believers in Jude’s audience need to wake up and resist this group of false teachers who had secretly infiltrated their churches. At the same time they are doing that, Jude’s readers need to make every effort to build themselves up in the most holy faith–one of the surest and best ways to prevent false teachers from destroying the churches.
The Importance of This Short Epistle
Jude is writing in opposition to a group of schwarmerai (charismatics), men, who under the pretense of receiving new revelations from God, were defiling their flesh (a reference to sexual immorality) and speaking blasphemously about matters they claimed to understand but knew nothing about. It is clear from Jude’s comments that his concern is with teachers already in the churches, men whose conduct in many ways mirrors the false teaching plaguing the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 10-12), as well as two of the churches mentioned in Revelation (Thyatira and Pergamum) who, according to the Apostle John, were facing a similar kind of false teaching associated with a certain “Jezebel.”[1] Based upon some of specific comments made by Jude, a good case can be made that the congregation(s) to which Jude is writing were steeped in Jewish mysticism, and end-times speculation (Jewish apocalypticism). It may be the case that the false teachers were able to appeal to the congregation’s interest in mysticism and end-times as a cover so as to make rapid progress in infiltrating the churches.
Jude opens his brief letter (vv.1-4) with a greeting, and a strong word of warning about the deceptive methods used by these false teachers. Jude also includes a word of explanation about the nature of their error–using the grace of God as a pretext for immoral behavior–as well as reminding his readers of the certainty of God’s judgment upon those who distort the truth for their sinful purposes. In verses 5-16, Jude sets out what amounts to a sermon of sorts on the course of redemptive history, in which Jude makes his case that God has his own ways of dealing with false teachers, and that they will inevitably bring themselves under God’s judgment. Jude appeals to past events in which God’s judgment falls upon the disobedient, before appealing to these events as examples of what will befall the false teachers currently plaguing the churches. Jude calls upon his reader/hearer to learn from God’s dealing with his people in the past as a way to resist the false teachers then present in the churches. In verses 17-23, we come to the heart of the epistle where Jude exhorts his reader to remember that the apostles had predicted the very situation that the churches were now facing. In light of this, it was their duty to build themselves up in the “most holy faith” until Christ returns. And then in the final verses of the epistle (vv. 24-25), Jude closes with one of the most moving doxologies in all the New Testament.
The Connection Between Jude and 2 Peter
Anyone who knows the New Testament knows that the Epistle of Jude is very similar to 2 Peter chapter 2. In fact, the parallels between Jude and 2 Peter are quite remarkable. This has led a number of critical scholars to conclude that an anonymous author copied 2 Peter chapter 2, edited it, and then circulated it as a letter from Jude, the brother of James and Jesus. Others contend the opposite–someone writing in the name of Peter took the material now found in 2 Peter chapter 2 from the epistle of Jude, and then passed it off as the work of the Apostle Peter. But there is nothing in the orthodox view of inspiration which would prevent Peter from incorporating a portion of the Epistle of Jude in his own letter (our 2 Peter). It is likely the case that Peter simply borrowed this material from Jude. Either that is the case, or whoever wrote 2 Peter was lying when he claimed to an eyewitness to many of the events in the life of Jesus (i.e., the transfiguration). The author identifies himself as “Jude” the brother of James and of Jesus–something which, if not true, would have brought howls of protest from anyone reading this letter who knew that not to be the case.[2] If someone were going to forge a letter like this, why do so in the name of Jude, who, apart from this letter, few in the early church even mention?
It is also important to point out that there was never any challenge to the authenticity of this letter in the early church. Some of the earliest letters of the church fathers allude to it–Clement of Rome, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Didache. Jude is cited directly by Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria. So, there is evidence of wide-spread acceptance of Jude (from all parts of the Roman world) and no one seems to have objected to this letter. From the earliest days, the church accepted it as coming from Jude, brother of James and Jesus.[3] Most of the arguments raised by critical scholars against the authenticity of this epistle fall into the category of pure speculation arising from an anti-supernatural bias.
The Date
There is no question that the author is a Jew. Although he uses fourteen words unique to the New Testament (found nowhere else), in his discussion of redemptive history Jude follows the Hebrew Old Testament (not the LXX). Furthermore, he cites from two apocryphal Jewish writings (the Assumption of Moses and the Book of Enoch), which indicates that those to whom he is writing were probably influenced by Jewish apocalyptic (end-times speculation). Jude appeals to their interest in end-times, but reminds them that they must understand these things in light of the coming of Jesus.
As for the date of this epistle, one important key is found in verses 17-18, when Jude says, “But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, `In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.’” If Jude’s audience includes people who personally heard the teaching of the various apostles, then this letter must have been written when such people were still alive. This pushes us toward an earlier date, especially if Peter (or his secretary) did indeed consult this epistle when crafting his second letter. Furthermore, there is also some evidence within the letter that Jude was personally familiar with his readers. In verse 3, Jude uses an intimate personal address–“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” That Jude calls his readers “beloved” (i.e. “dear friends”) and then addresses them in a personal way (“you”), seems to support the notion that although the epistle does not identify its intended audience, Jude knew many of those to whom he is writing.
The Opening Verses of Jude
With the historical background in mind, we turn to the first four verses of the Epistle of Jude. In the opening two verses of the epistle we learn the name of the author, but not much about his intended destination. “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.” Jude identifies himself as the brother of James, and as a servant of Christ–a very common title in the New Testament which is used by Paul, Peter, James, and now Jude. It is important for us to notice that like his brother James, Jude does not appeal to the fact that Jesus is his brother.
Read More
Related Posts:

“To Him Who is Able” — An Exposition of Jude (Part Two)

In light of the damage done by the false teachers, Jude exhorts the members of these churches to “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” It was the sacred duty of the pastors, elders, and members of these churches to resist these false teachers, and at the same time to be compassionate towards all those whom the false teachers have duped. Since God’s judgment upon these men was inevitable, Jude’s plea is that Christians snatch the wandering sheep back from the edge before it was too late. Indeed, our common salvation teaches us that we are saved by God’s grace–specifically Jesus’ death for our sins and his righteousness being imputed to us through faith–nevertheless, Christians must be warned that if they trust in Christ, they cannot continue to seek to live so as to gratify the desires of the flesh.

A First Century Sermon
Have you ever wondered what a sermon would be like in one of the churches founded during the time of the apostles? How did those in the apostolic circle preach? Since the New Testament was not yet completed, how did they utilize the Old Testament, so as to show forth Christ? In verses 5-16 of the Epistle of Jude we find such a sermon (or at least a portion of such a sermon) which serves as the main body of Jude’s epistle. Citing from both the Old Testament as well as apocryphal Jewish writings, Jude is able to remind his readers that God has a long history of dealing with false teachers and apostates, and those men who were currently troubling the churches to which Jude is writing, face certain judgment. Even as Jude’s readers are to earnestly contend for that faith “once for all delivered to the saints,” they are to also build themselves up in the most Holy faith, and to pray in the Holy Spirit.
In part one, we dealt with introductory matters and the first four verses. Recall that this epistle was written by Jude–the brother of James and Jesus–as early as the mid-fifties of the first century. While Jude doesn’t give us any of the specifics about the churches to which he is writing, there is enough information here to gather that Jude is writing to a church (or churches) which was composed largely of Jewish converts to Christianity. The members of these church were steeped in Jewish mysticism and end-time speculation–we’ll see why that is important momentarily. Jude has learned that these unnamed churches were facing a very serious internal crisis, prompting Jude to write this epistle which is an urgent warning to his brethren.
Apparently, Jude was planning on a writing a letter to these churches about “our common salvation,” when word reached him that a group of traveling prophets and teachers had crept into these churches, introducing the dangerous heresy of antinomianism. Antinomianism is the notion that since we are saved by God’s grace and not by our works, Christians are not in any sense bound to keep the law (the Ten Commandments). This particular group of false teachers had infiltrated their ranks, and were men who were using the grace of God as an excuse to engage in all kinds of sexual immorality. Furthermore, these men were claiming that God was revealing himself to them through dreams and visions, which, supposedly gave great credibility to their deceptive message. Upon learning that this was indeed going on, Jude sends this epistle to these churches exhorting them to deal with these men before they can do any more damage.
The Old Testament Background
Although quite short, this epistle is packed with content. In the first four verses, Jude exhorts his readers/hearers to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. In verses 5-16, Jude makes his case that the actions of these false teachers was foretold throughout the Old Testament. In these verses, we find a sermon of sorts, drawn from a number of Old Testament texts as well as the apocryphal Book of Enoch. Jude demonstrates that the history of redemption indicates that God’s judgment will certainly befall upon these men now plaguing the churches. And then, in verses 17-25, Jude concludes by reminding his beloved brethren that this was the very thing the apostles (whom many in the congregation had heard preach with their own ears) warned them would happen. Even as they are contending for the faith once for all delivered, these Christians are to use this time to build themselves up in the most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit, while they wait for the coming of the Lord.
We turn to the first part of our text, verses 5-16 of Jude, which is, in effect, Jude’s sermon on the threat to the churches to which he is writing. In verses 5-7 of Jude’s sermon, Jude gives us three illustrations drawn from the Old Testament and Jewish apocalyptic sources regarding those who claimed to be servants of the Lord, but whose conduct proves them to be anything but. Before setting out his case, Jude issues an important reminder in the first clause of verse 5– “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it . . .” a statement which I take to be a reference to the fact that Jude’s readers already have been thoroughly instructed in “the faith” at the time they came to faith in Christ.
Since many of these people received their initial instruction in Christian doctrine (catechism) directly from the lips of apostles, Jude has no need to instruct his readers in that doctrine. Rather, he is writing to exhort them to put into practice what they have already learned.[1] This also implies that the apostles have already taught us everything we need to know about the gospel, and the person and work of Jesus. If that is the case, could anything possibly be missing from that doctrine taught them by the apostles, which God was supposedly revealing to these false teachers through their dreams and visions? Of course, not. Jude speaks of a “common salvation,” and “a faith, once for all delivered.”
Jesus and the Exodus from Egypt
Jude’s first illustration is taken from one the most famous episodes in Israel’s history. It is noteworthy that Jude tells us that it was Jesus who called the Israelites out of their captivity in Egypt, “that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” Anyone who knows the Passover/Exodus story as found in the Book of Exodus knows that it was YHWH who killed the firstborn males of Egypt, and who delivered the people of Israel on the night of the Passover. It was YHWH who then led the people through the Red Sea on dry ground. After Jesus died and then rose again from the dead, and after Jude came to faith in Christ, Jude now looks back at the Old Testament through the lens of Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. No question, the apostolic church believed that since Jesus was God in human flesh, Christians can properly speak of Jesus as YHWH, the one who rescued Israel from the clutches of the Pharaoh.
After the Israelites left Egypt, Moses warned them that the unbelievers and grumblers among them were rejecting God’s covenant promise to grant them the land of promise. Even after seeing YHWH’s awesome power first-hand, these Israelites still doubted whether YHWH was actually capable of defeating the Canaanites. They began to grumble against the Lord, and would come under God’s covenant curse. They would be forced to wander for forty years in the wilderness of the Sinai until their entire generation died off. All of them, except the families of Joshua and Caleb, died in the desert.
Remarkably, Jude ties all of this directly to Jesus. The implication is that preachers in the apostolic circle, like Jude, were led by the Holy Spirit to read the Old Testament through the lens of the person and work of Christ–the very thing which our dispensational friends say should not be done. Jude also has no trouble in applying an Old Testament example of Israel’s disobedience directly to the situation then facing the churches when Jude wrote his epistle. And so in his sermon, Jude argues that it was Jesus who rescued Israel from Egypt. And it was Jesus who allowed the faithless grumblers to wander in the desert for forty years until that entire first generation of Israelites was wiped out. Jude’s readers were, no doubt, very much aware of the story of Israel’s disobedience and God’s judgment. No doubt, they also fully understood Jude’s application of this account from Israel’s history directly to the disobedient and faithless individuals then creeping into the churches. As God had done with Israel, so now he does with his new covenant people, the New Israel. He dealt with apostates then. He will deal with them now.
The Book of Enoch?
Jude’s second illustration comes from a Jewish legend found in the Book of Enoch about angels leaving heaven and then inter-marrying with women so as to corrupt the human race. A number of Jewish writers living before the coming of Christ interpreted the account of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4 precisely in this manner. Although by the end of the first century, most Rabbis, as well as most subsequent Christians writers rejected this idea–instead seeing the “Nephilim” as fully human thugs and warlords building harems, not the product of sexual relations between women and fallen angels–the notion of angels supposedly procreating with humans is quite prominent in the Book of Enoch, a Jewish apocryphal book then popular in both Jewish and Christian circles.[2]
Even though the Book of Enoch is apocryphal, Jude utilizes Enoch’s legend to make a point. In verse 6, Jude is clearly alluding to a passage in Enoch, “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” Without comment upon the erroneous nature of the interpretation held by those in his audience who were influenced by the Book of Enoch, Jude reminds his readers that those angels who followed Satan, and who fell from their place in heaven (“did not keep it”), have been “kept” in chains until the day of judgment. Whatever we make of Jude’s use of an apocryphal source like the Book of Enoch, Jude sees nothing wrong with alluding to it to make an important point–those angels, who according to Enoch, abandoned their place in heaven so as to engage in sexual relations with women, were immediately subject to God’s judgment. Therefore, in his “sermon,” Jude uses Enoch’s legend to make the point that while the angels did not stay (“keep” their place), the Lord now “keeps” them in chains until the time of the end. Jude reinterprets Enoch’s legend in light of the truth of the gospel.
In verse seven, Jude takes up the account of Sodom and Gomorrah, cities well-known to every reader of the Old Testament as places characterized by their open and rampant immorality.
Read More
Related Posts:

The Basics: The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible

Since the Bible is the very words of God (it doesn’t merely contain the word of God), it comes to us with the authority of its primary author, God himself. Those for whom the book of the Bible are named, tell us that Bible is God’s word written, and that it must be seen as divine speech given through human agency. And this speech instructs, corrects, and trains us in righteousness, because it repeatedly points us to its central character, Jesus, the Son of God who came to save us from our sin.

In Genesis 1:1 we read “in the beginning was God.” Echoing the opening declaration of the Bible, in John 1:1 we read that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” But John goes on to say “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The fact that God chose to reveal himself in the person of Jesus Christ (the eternal word made flesh) brings us to the subject of the inspiration and authority of the Bible. This is where God primarily chooses to reveal himself and his purposes to his people—in a collection of sixty-six written books which tell the story of God’s mighty deeds and words of explanation, all of which point to Jesus, the Word made flesh.
The Bible never claims to be an “inspirational” book which grants its reader greater spiritual insight or self-enlightenment. The Bible was not given to motivate us to live better lives, or to do great things. The Bible is given to us by God as a testimony to the Word made flesh (Jesus), who came to save us from our sins. This is what the various human writers of the Bible say about the Bible itself. What kind of book is it? What do they testify about it?
Paul says in his second letter to Timothy that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Although the term “inspiration of Scripture” is often used to describe God’s revelation of himself to us in written form, modern translations of the Bible (such as the ESV) correctly note that the word which the King James Version famously translated as “inspired” (theopneustos) is better translated as “breathed out” by God.
Read More
Related Posts:

Eschatology Q & A — “What About the Great Tribulation?”

In light of the tendency to relegate a time of “great” tribulation to the distant past or imminent future, it is important to survey the biblical teaching in this regard.  As we will see, this time of “great tribulation” cannot be tied exclusively to the events of A.D. 70, or to the very end.  God’s people may face such tribulation throughout the entire time from Christ’s redemptive tribulation on the cross, until the end of the age.

This is an important question for several reasons.  First, when most people think of the great tribulation, they are thinking of the dispensational idea that at (or about) the time of the Rapture, the world enters a seven-year period of tribulation in which the Antichrist comes to power after the unexpected removal of all believers.  The Antichrist then makes a seven-year peace treaty with Israel, only to turn upon Israel after three and a half years, plunging the world into a geo-political crisis which ends with the battle of Armageddon.  Dispensationalists believe this is a time of horrific cruelty and that only way to be saved during this period is to refuse to take the mark of the beast, and not worship the beast or his image.  The main problem with this interpretation is that it is nowhere found  in Scripture.
A second reason why this question is important has to do with the rise of various forms of preterism (full-preterism, which is considered a heresy; and so-called “partial” preterism, which is not) which contend that Christ returned in A.D. 70 to execute judgment upon apostate Israel, the city of Jerusalem, and the Jewish temple and its sacrificial system.  Those who hold to the various forms of preterism believe that this great tribulation spoken of by Jesus (Matthew 24:21) has come and gone with the events associated with the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the Romans.
In light of the tendency to relegate a time of “great” tribulation to the distant past or imminent future, it is important to survey the biblical teaching in this regard.  As we will see, this time of “great tribulation” cannot be tied exclusively to the events of A.D. 70, or to the very end.  God’s people may face such tribulation throughout the entire time from Christ’s redemptive tribulation on the cross, until the end of the age.
Virtually all scholars agree that the basis for the three references in the New Testament to a “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21; Revelation 2:22; 7:14) is Daniel 12:1, which reads: “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.”
In Daniel’s prophecy not only  is this period of suffering tied to the time of the end (i.e., the mention of the general resurrection in vv.2-3), but the basis for the tribulation God’s people face is their covenant loyalty to God in the face of external persecution (by the state) and false teaching (from within) which causes the apostasy of many within the covenant community (cf. Daniel 11:30-39; 44; 12:10).
Read More
Related Posts:

“Luther’s Psalm”: A Look at the 46th Psalm

The Psalmist uses three metaphors to describe God in the opening verse. He is a refuge–a safe place to hide in times of trouble. He is strength–he can do all things, as the people of Israel had just witnessed with the victory of Judah over the Moabites and Amorites as recounted in 2 Chronicles 20. But he is also an ever-present help whenever trouble comes. Unlike the Canaanite deities, YHWH may be “found” in times of trial. He is with us, not far away. He is active, not indifferent. He is the fortress for his people, keeping us safe no matter what the circumstances may be. Although we always need him, he is “found” (“with us”) when we need him most. Because the LORD of Hosts is all of these things, in verses 2-3 the Psalmist affirms, “therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

Luther’s Interest in Psalm 46
Most people cannot recite Psalm 46 from memory. But many are so familiar with the words to Martin Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” that they can sing it without looking at the hymnal. “Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott” is actually Luther’s paraphrase of Psalm 46. This Psalm has several very familiar lines, has been cited by American presidents (most recently by Barak Obama), and portions of it appear in well-known Jewish prayers. Found in Book Two of the Psalter and attributed to the Sons of Korah, it is classified as a “Psalm of Zion.” It contains loud echoes from Psalm 2, where that divine protection promised to the king, is extended to include his capital city (Jerusalem). Charles Spurgeon aptly speaks of the 46th Psalm as “the song of faith in troubled times.”[1] Martin Luther thought this Psalm of such comfort, he put it to verse.
It is important to reflect upon Psalm 46, because we sing this particular Psalm as often as any other–often in the form of Luther’s famous paraphrase. Before we take up the text of the Psalm–where we will find much deep and rich biblical theology–I think it appropriate to consider Luther’s use of this Psalm, then debunk one of the persistent myths surrounding the version of the Psalm which appears in the KJV, and then look at the context in which the Psalm was originally composed. Then, we will look at the text of the Psalm while making various points of application as we go.
As for Luther and “A Mighty Fortress,” although there are many theories about when it was written and for what occasion, Luther’s hymn first appears in a 1531 hymnal which would indicate that Luther wrote it several years earlier, likely in 1527-29. This was ten years or so after his 95 theses were circulated throughout Europe, igniting the theological fire which became the Protestant Reformation. The black plague was especially virulent throughout much of Europe in the winter of 1527, nearly killing Luther’s son. Luther was also a physical wreck during this time (from exhaustion). He began spending much time reading and reflecting upon Psalm 46, especially its promise that God is the bulwark (fortress) who never fails. From Luther’s reflection on that word of comfort, the famous hymn was born.
According to one writer, “many times during this dark and tumultuous period, when terribly discouraged, [Luther] would turn to his co-laborer, Philipp Melanchthon, and say, ‘Come, Philipp, let us sing the forty-sixth Psalm.’”[2] Luther said of this particular Psalm, “we sing this psalm to the praise of God, because He is with us and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends His church and His word against all fanatical spirits, against the gates of hell, against the implacable hatred of the devil, and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh, and sin.”[3] Because our fathers in the faith were sustained throughout their trials by their knowledge and love of the Psalter, we would be foolish to ignore their wise counsel, and the faithful example they have set before us.
A Persistent Rumor
One persistent rumor which needs to be debunked is that William Shakespeare helped prepare the translation of this Psalm which appears in the King James Version of the Bible. As the spurious theory goes, the 46th word of the Psalm is “shake,” while the 46th word from the end of the Psalm is “spear.” Furthermore, the bard was forty-six years old in 1611 when the translation of the KJV was completed. Unfortunately, the only way this will work is if you do not count the word “selah” which appears in three places in the Psalm. Selah is an indication to the musicians that this is a place to pause. No doubt, there are some interesting coincidences here. But then, it is a shame that people are so preoccupied with interesting coincidences, because, apparently, coincidences are far more intriguing than making an effort to understand how this particular Psalm speaks of Jesus Christ.
The Songs of Zion
As for the background to the Psalm itself, this Psalm (along with a number others) is usually classified as a “Song of Zion.” The Zion Songs are identified as such because these Psalms proclaim the excellencies of Zion (the mountain upon which Jerusalem and the temple are located), which is the apple of YHWH’s eye. In these Psalms YHWH is depicted as the great warrior-king who protects his own as he advances his kingdom. These Psalms are also polemical–they are a response to Canaanite polytheism. In contrast, the Songs of Zion proclaim that YHWH alone is God, and it is he who made the mountains where the Canaanites foolishly believed their “gods” dwelt.
But the Zion motif is not just limited to the physical mountain upon which the city of Jerusalem happens to sit. Zion is the very symbol of God’s kingdom on earth, a kingdom which has a visible expression in the city of Jerusalem and in its temple. Yet the people of Israel also know that YHWH’s kingdom extends beyond Zion to the ends of the earth. In the Zion Songs, it is YHWH who protects the earthly Zion, and its people, and its ruler. It is YHWH who provides for his people–especially during their trials. It is YHWH who blesses them, when (in faith), they obey his covenant. And it is YHWH who will bring down the covenant curses upon Israel when they disobey him. The citizens of spiritual Zion trust in YHWH’s promise. They delight in his presence. They seek to honor him through living lives of gratitude–loving him and neighbor. And they believe that YHWH will see them through the worst of times and trials, which is why they both praise him and call upon his name in these songs.[4]
It is in this sense then that Zion is the center of Israelite life, and why the earthly mount Zion and city of Jerusalem, points beyond the city and the temple to the new Jerusalem and the heavenly city. At this point in redemptive history, Zion is the holy mount where YHWH chooses to be present with his people. He delights when his people acknowledge him as the true and living God. All of this points ahead to the coming of Jesus Christ who is the true temple, and the true Israel, and in whom and through whom the kingdom of God is realized in the new covenant era.
As the author of Hebrews tells Christian worshipers in Hebrews 12:22-24,

“but you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

When we assemble for worship, we do so as citizens of the heavenly Zion, the city of the living God, whose inhabitants have been made perfect by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. We too sing the “Songs of Zion,” but we sing them in reference to God’s kingdom and to the covenant mediator, Jesus.
The Historical Background to the Psalm’s Composition
The historical situation behind the composition of this Psalm is likely the events recounted in 2 Chronicles 20, when YHWH defeats the tribe of Judah’s enemies while the people uncharacteristically pray and wait for YHWH to act on their behalf–which he does.[5] According to verses 4 and following of 2 Chronicles 20,

“and Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord. And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, ‘O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’”

In verse 22, the Chronicler tells us that YHWH brought about Judah’s successful ambush of their enemies and as a consequence,

“Judah came to the watchtower of the wilderness, they looked toward the horde, and behold, there were dead bodies lying on the ground; none had escaped. When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take their spoil, they found among them, in great numbers, goods, clothing, and precious things, which they took for themselves until they could carry no more. They were three days in taking the spoil, it was so much.”

Having witnessed YHWH thoroughly defeat their vastly superior enemy and protect his city, the Sons of Korah composed this song of triumphal victory. They directed the choirmaster to use the 46th Psalm on a special occasion–most likely during times of crisis.[6]
The Structure of the Psalm
The 46th Psalm is divided into three stanzas, each marked off by “selah” (pause). The first stanza (vv. 1-3) reminds us of God’s power over nature, while the second stanza (vv. 4-7) describes YHWH’s power in defending his holy city from all attackers.
Read More
Related Posts:

Warfield on “Christianity and Our Times”

“Christianity is summed up in the phrase: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world with himself.” Where this great confession is contradicted or neglected, there is no Christianity.” The crisis in Warfield’s day was the reality that much of Christianity had jettisoned the gospel—for a host of reasons, and beyond the scope of Warfield’s answer to the two questions above. May we all be reminded in our increasingly hostile and pagan age, that the gospel our Lord has given us has not lost its power or its relevance.

In 1914, B. B. Warfield was invited to contribute an essay to the volume The Church, the People, and the Age, edited by Scott and Gilmore. There were 105 contributors, each of whom was asked to answer the following questions. 1). Why are so many people indifferent to the claims of Christianity? and 2). Would it be a step forward for the church (and presumably Christianity in general) if the only requirement for church membership was the desire to love God and our neighbor (which, ironically, was a suggestion from Abraham Lincoln fifty years prior). The contributors included Charles Augustus Briggs (who, at the time, was busy undermining the authority of Scripture), as well as German theologian and sycophant to Kaiser Wilhelm throughout the Great War, Adolf von Harnack. Scottish theologian James Orr also contributed a chapter.
The volume was compiled on the eve of the First World War which plunged all of Europe into chaos as “Christian” nations waged brutal war upon each other in the name of preserving Christian civilization. There was obviously a foreboding sense that Christian civilization was on the edge and the editors were seeking a format to discuss and offer solutions.
I’ve not seen the original volume, but my guess is that Warfield’s chapter suggests much different answers to both questions than the majority of contributors. As for the reason why people are indifferent to Christianity, Warfield points what should be obvious to anyone who has read the New Testament. Christianity is for sinners who know they need a Savior. People who sees themselves as capable of loving God and neighbor on their own will remain indifferent to Christ and his gospel.
Warfield writes,

When we are asked why it is that there are so many persons who are indifferent to the claims of the Church, no doubt the safest answer to give is that it is for reasons best known to themselves. It seems, however, only a voluntary humility to profess to be ignorant of the fundamental basis of this indifference; an indifference, let it be well borne in mind, which is in no sense “modern,” but has characterized ever greater numbers as we go back in the history of the Church to the very beginning. It lies in a weak sense of sin and the natural unconcern of men who do not feel themselves sinners with respect to salvation from sin. For Christianity addresses itself only to sinners.

Read More
Related Posts:

What Is Meditation?

The one who meditates on the will and wonders of God is blessed, unlike the one whose inner voice scoffs at God’s Word. A biblical approach to meditation is directly tied to the things revealed to us by a Creator-Redeemer. We will never find Him by looking within ourselves apart from His Word. We can only find Him through what He has made and in what He has said and done for us in Jesus Christ. 

Eastern religions often encourage their practitioners to “empty” themselves through meditation in order to achieve enlightenment or lasting peace and harmony. Such worldviews often emphasize that any attempt to focus on a particular mental object (someone or something) outside ourselves will likely interfere with the desired goal of meditation—an emptiness of mind or an altered state of consciousness. We are to turn within, they tell us, to achieve a sense of inner peace that the world around us constantly denies to us. We are to find enlightenment through the paradox of self-emptying.
On the contrary, a Christian approach to meditation cautions us about turning within ourselves precisely because we know what we will find when we do so—all sorts of sins and self-righteous judgments pronounced upon others (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9). Our hearts are dark (Rom. 1:21); our minds are filled with all kinds of lusts, greed, and mental futility (Eph. 4:17–19). Try as we will, we will not be completely emptied of such things until we are glorified. Thankfully, we can confess these things to God and receive forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Yet a Christian must ultimately strive to think about and meditate upon a reality outside ourselves, namely a Creator-Redeemer who is both personal and distinct from the world He has made and who is revealed to us in the so-called “two books”—the natural order and the Word of God (cf. Ps. 19).
Christian forms of meditation are closely associated with prayer. Prayer is a conversation with another to whom we turn—someone outside ourselves. We pray to God the Father, through the mediation of Jesus Christ in His role as intercessor between God and His people (1 Tim. 2:5), in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:12–17). There is no possibility of prayer if we turn within. Who will answer me? Am I praying to myself? What if I get an answer? That is a sign of much deeper trouble.
Read More
Related Posts:

Letters to the Seven Churches: To the Church in Ephesus

When someone loses a loved one, do they get calls and cards of sympathy? Are meals prepared and baby-sitting provided when someone gets sick? When someone loses a job, do people in the church help them find a new one? When someone stops attending church, do they get calls from concerned members who miss them? This is the kind of thing that Jesus is talking about when he speaks about doing the things the church did at the beginning. Jesus is not asking us to make superficial demonstrations of emotion. Jesus is talking about genuine love which manifests itself in action. By doing these things, the church is able to contend against false teachers and the poisonous cloud of suspicion, judgmentalism, and acrimony will be wonderfully dissipated by acts of mercy and charity.

The Lord of His Churches Addresses the Ephesians
Jesus Christ is the Lord of his church. He walks among the seven lampstands and holds the seven stars in his hand. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. He is alive forevermore and holds in his hands the keys of death and Hades. Jesus Christ is our great high priest who has freed us from our sins through the shedding of his own blood. He has made us to be a kingdom of priests to serve his God and father. That same Jesus now comes to us with words of exhortation and rebuke found in the seven letters addressed to the churches of Asia Minor.
In the opening section of the Book of Revelation (chapters 2-3) we find seven letters which were originally addressed to the seven churches scattered throughout Asia Minor (Turkey) and to whom John is sending this circular letter we now know as the Book of Revelation. The letters to the seven churches are part of a larger vision which begins in Revelation 1:12 and which continues on to the end of chapter 3. But before we go any farther, it is important to put these letters in their proper context in order to interpret them correctly.
Context of the Seven Letters
Although a number of commentators believe these letters represent seven consecutive periods in church history–the Ephesian era being the first, the Laodician being the last–it is much better to see these churches as historical Christian congregations facing horrible persecution at the hands of the pagan Roman empire, in addition to struggling with heretical teaching arising from within. Throughout the Book of Revelation, the number seven represents completeness and perfection. The letters to the “seven” churches means these letters and situations they describe are representative of the whole of Christ’s church throughout the ages. The issues these Christians faced in the first century are the very much the same issues we face in the twenty-first.
It is important to keep in mind the unique literary style of the Book of Revelation as we work our way through John’s visions. As Dennis Johnson points out in his excellent commentary (Triumph of the Lamb), each of these visions serve as a different camera angle as the redemptive drama unfolds during the course of this present evil age. Each vision focuses upon a particular aspect of the struggle between Christ and Satan during the last days and the great tribulation, which is the entire period of time between the first advent and second coming of Jesus Christ.
Symbolism Drawn from the Old Testament
Throughout these visions, John uses apocalyptic language in which symbols serve as word pictures of the cosmic struggle between Jesus Christ and his already defeated but ever defiant foe, the devil. John uses symbols such as lampstands, stars and keys, as well as certain numbers, such as “seven,” to point us to the realities which these symbols represent. This means that the symbols used in apocalyptic literature are not to be taken literally, as can be seen by the description of Jesus Christ which opens this vision in verses 12-20 (“The Alpha and the Omega” (Letters to the Seven Churches — Part One).
In order to correctly understand the meaning of these symbols we must look to the Old Testament from where they are drawn, as well as to the first century Roman empire, which serves as the historical backdrop against which the struggles these symbols portray is played out. For example, in these letters to the seven churches, John will refer to the historical circumstances faced by the Christians of first century Asia Minor. But John will frame these historical issues in the context of a greater struggle in which apocalyptic symbols are used to point us beyond Asia Minor and the Roman Empire of the first century to the struggles we currently face in our own day and age. The Christ of the seven churches of Asia Minor is the same Christ who wins the great victory over Satan and all those allied with him. The Christ of the first century church is the Christ of the twenty-first century church. The Christ who walks among the lampstands of the seven churches in Asia Minor, is the same Christ who walks among us when his people assemble for worship wherever they may be.
Before we look at the first of these seven letters–the letter written to the church in Ephesus–there are several things which can be said about these letters in general and which we should keep in mind. To begin with, it is vital that we connect the seven letters to the Christ who is ever-present in his church. This particular vision begins with John’s vision of the resurrected Christ recounted in verses 12-16 of chapter 1.

In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

All of the images John uses are drawn directly from the Old Testament and it is pointless to try and interpret these things literally as some medieval artists attempted to do in woodcuts and paintings, or in comic style today. When Jesus is described as being like a “son of man,” John reveals to us the true meaning of Daniel 7 and the everlasting kingdom of which Daniel had been speaking. When John speaks of Jesus with a long robe and golden sash, he is telling us that Jesus is the great high priest. When we hear that his head and hair are white, we see the reflected glory of the Ancient of Days. When Jesus’ feet glow like a furnace we should think of his purifying power. His voice, being like that of rushing water, means that his word is the Word of God. When Jesus speaks all creation must listen, for his testimony is true.
Furthermore, the lampstands are symbolic of God’s Holy Spirit, present in the churches, and who, through these lampstands, reminds us of the church’s function to be light-bearers to a fallen world. In Exodus 25:31, Moses describes in great detail how a golden lampstand with seven lamps is to be constructed for use in the tabernacle and then later in the temple. Even in Israel’s days in the wilderness, God was revealing his presence with his people through his Holy Spirit, to which the gold lampstand with seven lamps symbolically pointed. And now in John’s vision the same symbol appears again, only this time we are told of its true significance. Where the lampstand is present, Jesus is present. Where Jesus is present the Holy Spirit is present. And where the Holy Spirit is present, the church brings God’s light to the world around it which lives in darkness.
The Present and the Future
In verse 19, John is commanded by the Lord to write, “the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” Some have argued that this statement is the interpretative key to the whole book, dividing things into the past (what you have seen), the present (what is now), and the future (what will take place later). But a number of commentators have pointed out that the correct division here is actually two-fold. John is commanded to write about what he has seen, things present and things future.[1] Since John has already told us in verse 1 that the things about to be revealed concern events which are soon to take place, it makes a great deal of sense to understand that John will discuss things that now are–i.e., the issues facing the seven churches to which he is writing, and then later–beginning in Revelation 4:1,where he will address things which are yet to take place in the future course of redemptive history until Christ’s second coming.
But there is something else we must consider. Jesus addresses seven historical churches in these letters. But when he addresses them, he also addresses us, promising blessing for obedience and threatening curse for disobedience. Yes, these are real imperatives which we must heed. But like all imperatives in the New Testament, they must be seen in the light of the indicatives (promises) which precede them.
The City of Ephesus
With these things in mind, we turn to Revelation 2:1-7 and Christ’s letter to the church in Ephesus. It might be helpful to know a bit about the city of Ephesus and the church which was founded there in the early 50’s of the first century. The city of Ephesus was famous throughout the ancient world for its temple dedicated to Diana (Artemis). In Acts 19, we read of Paul’s two years spent in the city which came to an end after certain Jews tried to exorcise a demon in the name of Jesus, only to have the demon possessed-man turn on them and beat them to a pulp (Acts 19:11-20). As a result of this incident, there were so many occultists in the area who came to faith in Jesus Christ that it was not long before those making a living selling religious trinkets associated with Diana worship and the temple began to see their formerly thriving businesses dry up.
Read More
Related Posts:

Jonah — Preacher of Repentance (7) — Angry With God, Again . . .

Jonah cared deeply for his people, Israel–YHWH understands this. It is not sin for Jonah to be patriotic. But it borders on sin to do what Jonah is doing–to understand his own national/racial identity as an Israelite to be more fundamental to who he is than his calling as YHWH’s prophet. Burning with anger, Jonah cannot see God’s greater redemptive purposes. Yet, Jonah has no right to be angry with YHWH merely because YHWH’s greater purpose includes extending his saving grace beyond the boundaries of his covenant with Israel. Neither should we be angry when God extends his grace to those in different socio-economic groups, cultures, ethnicities, or political parties.

What pleased God (the repentance of Nineveh), only made Jonah mad[1] – a rather ironic sentiment from someone called to be YHWH’s prophet. Why was Jonah so upset that YHWH brought salvation to pagan Ninevites? Jonah, you’ll recall sought to flee YHWH’s call to preach in Nineveh, but YHWH took him on an unexpected detour–a great storm arises, Jonah is thrown overboard and then spends three days and nights in the belly of a great fish. But Jonah eventually fulfilled his prophetic calling, and preached repentance to the Ninevites. The result of his preaching? Many Ninevites believed Jonah’s message. Even their king believed Jonah’s warning. He ordered a time of mourning and fasting, even exhorting his people to call upon God and cease their violent behavior.
As we learn in chapter 4 of his prophecy, Jonah is angry with God. The prophet is perplexed by the fact that the Ninevites were spared from YHWH’s judgment even as his own beloved people, Israel, are about to come under God’s covenant curse. In the closing chapter of Jonah, we find the prophet right back where he was when first called to preach. His disdain for the Ninevites surfaces again. “Why was Nineveh spared when Israel will not be?” As his prophecy concludes, Jonah is given yet another lesson in God’s mercy.
As we consider the final chapter, once again we discover that in the Book of Jonah, irony seems to jump off every page. You would think that YHWH’s chosen prophet would be thrilled to witness huge numbers of people believe in YHWH and spared from judgment through his own preaching. Yes, pride is a sin, but there is a certain allowable sense of satisfaction about witnessing people come to faith, repent of their sin, and then amend their ways. Jonah should have been thrilled to witness what God has done in Nineveh–extend salvation to countless Gentiles beyond the confines of his covenant with Israel. But as we have come to expect in the Book of Jonah, the ironic becomes the norm.
The closing scene in Jonah chapter four takes place after Jonah has completed his mission of passing through the city of Nineveh and proclaiming YHWH’s call to repent with remarkable success. Instead of being thrilled to be YHWH’s agent in bringing the Ninevites to repentance, the opening verse of chapter 4 reveals that Jonah is angry. Why? What has happened? Why is he back where he started, angry that the people of Nineveh repented? Irony appears again–God relented in his anger toward Nineveh while Jonah renews his anger towards the Ninevites.
Why would the same evil that YHWH attributed to the Ninevites (the Hebrew text of Jonah 1:2) now be attributed to Jonah (4:1). The Hebrew text literally reads “it [the repentance of Ninveveh] was evil to Jonah with great evil.”[2] The ESV translates the passage as “but it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry,” trying to capture the raw emotion Jonah felt at what the prophet perceived as a divine injustice. Jonah hated what YHWH had done. It is hard to imagine a great evangelist preaching to a huge crowd, seeing many of them respond in faith, and then getting mad at God because people actually responded–but this is the scene in Jonah 4.
Why Did God Spare Nineveh, But Not Israel?
Why would Jonah react like this? There are several reasons for Jonah’s anger which we have already mentioned. The first is that Jonah is a loyal Israelite. He is a Jew, a prophet of YHWH, and loyal to the northern kingdom, long at war with both Syria and Assyria to the north. We know from the Books of the Kings that YHWH used Assyrian aggression to weaken Syria to the point that in the days of Jeroboam II, Israel actually defeated Syria and was enjoying a period of relative peace. But just to the north of Syria, Assyria was growing stronger by the day. The empire was but one generation away from the time when the armies of king Tiglath Pilesar III will sweep down from the north and virtually wipe Israel off the map. Nineveh was in the very heart of the Assyrian empire. The first reason why Jonah reacted as he did is racial and cultural. The Assyrians are not my people. They are my enemies. How could God call them to repentance? Doesn’t he know how bad they are? Doesn’t he know that they are outside the covenant?
As a loyal Israelite, Jonah also very likely worried that without YHWH’s help, Assyria’s technologically advanced army could easily defeat Israel. If that were the case it would mean–at least to Jonah’s way of thinking–that Assyria would be God’s agent of judgment upon the disobedient, idolatrous, and faithless Israelites. Why would YHWH save Assyrians in Nineveh, yet bring judgment upon Israel, Jonah’s people?
Read More
Related Posts:

Scroll to top