Immutability and Identity, Part One

Published on 04/06/15

“And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”

We begin at the end of John the Baptist’s life, where we catch a glimpse of his imprisonment as recorded in Matthew 11:1-6. In my Th.D. dissertation (1), I follow the lead of men such as Matthew Poole, a Calvinist Protestant, and John Gill, a Calvinist Baptist, both of whom argue here that John the Baptist was not so much doubting whether Jesus was the Messiah, as he was using a teaching opportunity to his few remaining disciples to cause them to see for themselves that Jesus in fact was the Messiah. In other words, John was in essence saying, “Why are you still with me? Go to Jesus and ask Him if He is the Messiah, and see what He says.” This viewpoint argues that John did not want disciples at this stage of his life, and that he was trying to send his few remaining followers away from him to follow Christ.

As I reflect on this interpretation a decade after having written my dissertation, I still believe that John was sending his disciples to Jesus, and there are several strong arguments in favor of that view which are difficult to overthrow. We want to be careful, however, that we do not make John into some sort of a “Super Man,” incapable of having doubts, especially when faced with imprisonment and not having seen the Kingdom of Heaven realized. So while I still do not believe that John doubted that Jesus was the Messiah, I do believe the imprisonment that he faced and the isolation that he endured could have, even would have, had some sort of an affect on his thinking or upon his attitude or spirit.

I highlight verse six of Matthew eleven, where the Savior says, “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” This tenth beatitude, like the nine that precede it in the Sermon on the Mount, is spoken to disciples, those who are following, or at least endeavoring to follow, the Lord Jesus Christ. Using a conditional sentence, the Lord teaches that there is a blessing for those, whoever they might be, who are not offended with him. The word offended is from the Greek word skandalidzo, and it seems to have the root idea of “stumbling.” To stumble is to miss one’s step, and it usually precedes falling down. The word skandalidzo is used often in Matthew to speak of those who had a hard time hearing what Christ was teaching.

Putting this together, it seems that someone, either John, or John’s disciples, or someone else, had become less than content. There was a possibility of being offended. And this discontentment or offense is specifically directed toward the Lord, as we see from the little phrase, “offended in me.”

We are speaking on the subject of Immutability and Identity. Immutability is one of the first big theological words that we learn in our theology studies. It is a Bible word, appearing in Hebrews 6:17-18 (2), but we also use it to restate a biblical truth. The word immutability is used exclusively, in our theology classes, to refer to God. It is used to describe one of His non-moral attributes. It is something that God has and man does not have. Immutability refers to the truth that God is not subject to change, in fact, it is not a possibility that God could be susceptible to change. God does not change. God is not mutable. Whether we conceive of God within time, or outside of time in eternity, God is the same. God does not change; that is immutability.

Identity is a word that relates much more to man. Like the word immutability, the word “identity,” while not a Bible word, is a theological term, and as it relates to anthropology, it is somewhat of a psychological term. Identity deals with who we are as people. Who am I? What is man? What is the truth about who I am? How do my personality, thoughts, and experiences relate to the truth? These are questions of identity.

Before you wonder too much about what I’m talking about, let me just come out and tell you what I am going to tell you: changes may be coming. It is possible that changes may come into your life that could cause you to question your very identity. Families change. Your family could change. Churches change. Your church could change. Nations change. Your nation could change. And all or any of those changes could have an enormous impact upon your identity.

Now you might speak up and protest what I’m saying. You might say, “Not me! I won’t change. I won’t have an “identity crisis.” I know what I believe! My mind is made up! I’m not concerned about my identity.”

I remind you: the Lord allowed something to happen relative to the life of John the Baptist, that caused the Lord to utter the words of Matthew 11:6 – “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” I do not know who the whosoever was that the Lord had specifically in mind when He uttered these words. It may have been John the Baptist, of those born of women, none greater than he. I do not know. It does seem that the statement was directed to the Lord’s followers, not toward those who were not following Him. Nonetheless, I do know, for myself, that I today am included in the “whosoever” of Matthew 11:6, because it is possible for me to be offended at the Lord for the changes which He allows to my identity.

I think of an illustration of this. (I’m putting an illustration into my introduction, that’s how bad a sermon this is). I believe, along with other commentators, that John the Baptist had access to the entire canon of the Hebrew Scriptures. I also believe that John, the son of Zacharias the priest, was well versed in the Ancient Scrolls and their ancient words. Therefore, I believe that John the Baptist had read the Old Testament book to which I refer us now as an illustration, what I believe to be the first book of the Bible written, and that, of course, is the book of Job. There is probably no better book to look at than Job on the subject of the immutability of God and the identity of man. And that is what we will begin to do in part two.

(1) Joel R. Grassi, The Church That John the Baptist Prepared, (unpublished Th.D. dissertation, Emmanuel Baptist Theological Seminary, Newington, CT, 2005).

(2) “Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:” Hebrews 6:17-18

TR Readings Keep Showing Up

Published on 03/18/15

As everyone in our church knows, this past Christmas season we completed a detailed study of I Timothy 3:16. (1) Our church believes that the Bible is the Word of God and the words of God, and we believe that God has preserved His Word and His words for us. We are united around this truth, and our church has received the reading of “God was manifest in the flesh” as the Word of God. We believe that that is the correct wording of I Timothy 3:16, and that reading is based upon the Received Text or Textus Receptus (TR), the Greek NT that underlies the Tyndale translation, the Reina Valera Spanish Bible, Luther’s German Bible, the King James Version (KJV), and other tried and true translations.

It is always encouraging to me to see others cite passages that are clearly based upon the TR, and I wanted to refer you to a couple that I recently came across. First, I recently read Kevin Bauder’s essay The Mystery of the Incarnation, at the website of Religious Affections Ministries. (2) In his seventh paragraph, Bro. Bauder states, “Thus Paul wrote, “God was manifest in the flesh” (I Tim 3:16), referring to the divine nature by the prophecy of the human nature.”

Dr. Bauder’s position concerning the text and translations of the Bible is well known. I have read the book he co-edited, One Bible Only?, and in that work he and his co-contributors espouse various arguments in favor of the use of the eclectic Greek New Testament (i.e. the Critical Text). (3) The Critical Text (CT) of the Greek New Testament, however, never says, “God was manifest in the flesh.” The CT only says, “he (or “who”) was manifest in the flesh.”

My only point here in bringing this up is that when it came time for Bro. Bauder to write an essay on the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and when, in that essay, it came time to quote I Timothy 3:16, Bro. Bauder appealed to the wording of the TR as it is reflected in the KJV, not to the wording of an English translation based on the CT. Perhaps he would correct me at this point, but what I take away from this is: the KJV of I Timothy 3:16 is a stronger testimony for the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ than English translations which replace the word “God” with “he” or “whom.” His essay would have packed less punch if he would have said, “Paul wrote that ‘He was manifest in the flesh.’” This situation is kind of like when you see the Coke delivery man drinking a Pepsi. The uniform says one thing, but the product choice says something different.

I note also that Bro. Bauder went so far as to say, “Paul wrote that ‘God was manifest in the flesh.’” I personally do not see how a true proponent of the CT could make such a statement, but, let me be the first to say “Amen” to what Bro. Bauder has written. I do believe that Paul wrote theos not hos, “God” not “who” or “he,” and that Bro. Bauder is in fact correct in his essay for wording it the way he did. Our church believes that Paul wrote what Bro. Bauder says in this article that Paul wrote.

The second TR reading that I came across recently was as I was studying J. Sidlow Baxter’s book, The Master Theme of the Bible. One of the passages that Baxter discusses in this book is Acts chapter 8:26ff., and concerning Acts 8:37 he writes:

“To my own mind, it is a minor tragedy that verse 37 is omitted, except by marginal acknowledgement, in ERV, ASV, and RSV, as well as in such modern language versions as the NIV. Our earliest New Testament manuscripts go back only as far as the fifth century, whereas Irenaeus, in his third book, Against Heresies, written as early as A.D. 180-188, distinctly quotes that part of verse 37 which says, “I believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God.” And Cyprian (A.D. 200-258), in his third book Testimonies, quotes the other part of the verse. So, long before the oldest existing manuscripts, verse 37 must have been in the codices of both the Greek and Latin churches.” (4)

Acts 8:37 is another verse that our church believes is the word of God, just as it appears translated in the KJV. We agree with Bro. Baxter that it is a tragedy to omit this verse from the Bible as many of the modern English versions do, and that it is not satisfactory to relegate it to the margins of a translation. As we have studied many times in our Sunday morning theology classes, the entire teaching of believer’s baptism in this passage hinges on verse 37. I am greatly encouraged to see Bro. Baxter state with absolute certainty that Acts 8:37 “must have been in the codices of both the Greek and Latin churches” (emphasis in the original).

At Commonwealth Community Baptist Church, we believe that Paul wrote that, “God was manifest in the flesh,” and we believe that Philip said, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest,” and that the eunuch answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Our doctrines of the incarnation of Christ and of believer’s baptism are rooted in these words. Our church will continue to hold to the TR as the Greek text to be used in our theology classes, and we will continue to hold to faithful TR translations, such as the Tyndale, Reina Valera, and King James Translation, for our preaching, teaching, studying, Bible memorization, and other aspects of our walk as Christians.

May God add His blessing to His Word, and may He enable our church to hold fast the form of sound words which we have heard of Paul and the Apostles.

“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” II Timothy 1:13

(1) “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”

(2) www.religiousaffections.org/articles/in-the-nick-of-time/the-mystery-of-the-incarnation/.

(3) Roy E. Beacham & Kevin T. Bauder, One Bible Only? (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001).

(4) J. Sidlow Baxter, The Master Theme of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1997), p. 201.

Commonwealth: A brief study on the word, the avenue, and the church

Published on 03/16/15

Our church is known as the Commonwealth Community Baptist Church of the Bronx. Sometimes people will refer to our church simply as “Commonwealth.” Our name comes from the fact that we are situated on Commonwealth Avenue here in the Bronx, that we are a church that is very much connected to the people of our community, and that we are Baptist.

In the Bronx, Commonwealth Avenue begins (or ends) at East Tremont Avenue and goes south to Watson Avenue. Most of it is in the Soundview section of the Bronx, with part of it being in what is sometimes termed Bruckner, or Bronx River, near the Van Nest section. The part of Commonwealth Avenue which is west of Westchester Avenue, and which is where our church building is located, was once part of what was known as Park Versailles, aka the Archer-Mapes farm of the 1860s (1). Historians suppose that the naming of Commonwealth Avenue in the Bronx “is connected with nearby avenues, Stratford and Virginia. Stratford is a town in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and might allude to the surveyor’s birthplace, or to that of one of the landowners.” (2)

The word “commonwealth” apparently dates to the 15th century, and conveyed the idea of “common wellbeing.” (3) “Commonwealth” appears one time in the KJV in Ephesians 2:12; “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:.” The translators of the KJV in fact borrowed the word from Mr. William Tyndale and his English translation of 1534. Interestingly, the word is still retained in many modern English versions, including the NKJV, the NAS, the RSV/ESV, and others.

The word “commonwealth” is translated from the Greek politeis, which occurs one other time in the NT in Acts 22:28, where the KJV translates it “freedom,” again borrowing from Tyndale. The root word is polites, which is translated as “citizen,” and which itself is from the root polis, the word for “city.” (4)

In Ephesians 2:12, it seems that Paul is referring to citizenship in Israel and the rights, privileges, and customs that go along with it, which the Ephesians, who were Greeks, did not have. As Thielman observes, “Paul is probably also thinking of how unbelieving Gentiles, because they were separated from the people who had access to Israel’s Scriptures and governed their affairs by them (cf. Rom. 3:2; 9:4), were alienated from their “way of life.’” (5)

John Phillips gives this background on Ephesians 2:12:

“This verse describes that natural state of the Gentiles. Prior to the great dispensational change that has now taken place, the only way a Gentile could partake of the spiritual blessings and covenantal benefits of Israel was to become a Jewish proselyte. Gentiles were natural born aliens and had no part in the great covenantal promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. Cut off from these covenants, the Gentiles had no hope and were without God. Their natural state apart from the gospel was deplorable; they were outside both the covenants and the commonwealth.” (6)

As Gentiles who did not know the Lord, we were indeed aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. We did not have a unique relationship with God, and we could not be referred to as the people of God. (7) As Lloyd -Jones observes, “The most terrible thing about a man who is not a Christian is that he is outside that circle and does not belong to the people of God.” (8) Wilson further notes, ”...this exclusion from Israel, the sole recipient of the light of God’s special revelation (Rom. 3:2), left them in the darkness of nature’s night.” (9) One of the points Paul makes in his epistle to the Ephesian church is that the gentile peoples were quite alienated by the Jews also, and for Jew and gentile to be members of the same body (i.e. the local NT church, the body of Christ) was nothing short of the astonishing accomplishment of the Messiah. We were without Christ, but now we are in Christ. We were strangers from the covenants of promise, but now we are possessors of the promises. We had no hope, but now we have the blessed hope of Christ. We were without God in the world, but now God is with us and for us as we travel through this world. Truly now we are members of the commonwealth of God’s people.

With this in mind, Commonwealth Community Baptist Church ought to rejoice in God for including us in His wondrous redemptive purpose, and we ought to bear in mind the many ways our church has a special connection with Israel.

First, our God is the God of Israel, the God Who is revealed to mankind in the Tanak, the inspired Jewish Scriptures that comprise the books of Genesis through Malachi in our English Bible.

Second, our Scriptures came to us through the Jewish people, both the older testament and the newer testament. The authors of Scripture were, for the most part, children of Israel.

Third, our Savior came to us via the Jewish people. Our church is a testimony of the truthfulness of Genesis 12:1-3, wherein the LORD told Abraham that in him and his seed would all the families of the earth be blessed. So many different people groups are represented in Commonwealth Community Baptist Church, and all of us trace our greatest blessing back to the seed of Abraham.

Fourth, our church is a New Testament church, and the churches upon which our church is patterned were comprised of many Jewish members. The NT church is to be a place where Jewish people should feel welcome, not alienated, after all we are worshipping their God, reading their Scriptures, and trusting their Messiah.

Fifth, our church building stands on the grounds of the former Hebrew Center of the East Bronx, a synagogue which was organized in 1923. By one historian’s estimation, there were once 780 synagogues south of Fordham Road in the South Bronx. (10) Our church was planted by Martin Silverberg, himself Jewish, and his wife Valerie, and their four children Joshua, Shekinah, Josiah, and Jonah Israel. Baptist history and Jewish history in America have been closely linked ever since the 17th century foundings of the first Baptist church in America and the Touro synagogue, both on the same block in Newport, Rhode Island.

With these truths in mind, we must never forget that the very identity of Commonwealth Community Baptist Church is deeply rooted in the Jewish people and their Scriptures. My prayer is that each one of us at Commonwealth Community Baptist Church in the Bronx would thank God for Israel, would love the Jewish people, and would pray for the peace of Jerusalem through Yeshua ha Meshiach. “But now in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13).

(1) Cf. John McNamara, History in Asphalt: The Origin of Bronx Street and Place Names (Bronx, NY: The Bronx County Historical Society, 1984), p. 464.

(2) McNamara, p. 57. Note that nearby in the Parkchester section of the Bronx is Virginia Park and Virginia Avenue, of which McNamara notes, “The avenue might possibly be named after a packet ship, Virginia, owned by Benjamin Trask, a landowner in the area. Or else, a surveyor wished to commemorate his birthplace, Stratford in the Commonwealth of Virginia – for the first two names are in adjacent avenues.” McNamara p. 257.

(3) Cf. OED.

(4) Cf. Phil. 3:20.

(5) Cf. Thielman who argues for all three aspects of rights, privileges, and customs to be in view with “commonwealth.” Frank Thielman, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2010), pp. 154-156. See also TDNT, where Strathmann argues that it is, “used in the figurative sense of the privileged religious position of Israel as the recipient of the promise.”

(6) John Phillips, Exploring Ephesians (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Bros., 1993), p. 69.

(7) Cf Boice, who gives Ruth and Naaman as examples of gentiles who became citizens of Israel before coming to the know the LORD. James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997), pp. 77-78.

(8) D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, _An Exposition of Ephesians _ (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972), Vol. 2, p. 169.

(9) Geoffrey B. Wilson, Ephesians (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1978), p. 53.

(10) Cf. www.bronxsynagogues.org.