THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO–A Critical Review by Noel Weeks

ARTICLE BY   NOVEMBER 2014
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Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So …: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. New York: Harper Collins, 2014. $17.99/£10.99
This is not an easy book to review because a review calling into questionthe accuracy of statements or the cogency of arguments could easily be accused of failing to realise that the book’s popular tone, style and format do not allow for traditional academic comprehensiveness. Hence it is probably best that I begin by trying to describe and interact with the book’s form.
The book mixes popular rhetoric with reference to scholarly consensus; ironic humour with historical statements; personal aspects of the author’s own pilgrimage with declaration of states of affairs which the author sees as undebatable. Thus there are at least two levels: the personal and the scholarly. In itself there is nothing objectionable about that. One could argue that scholarship would be less dull if academics revealed more of their motivations behind the dry arguments and it would do no harm if personal rants had more objective basis. Nevertheless there is always the danger that we hide weakness of argument behind rhetoric. “Genocide” is a key word and concept in this book and, to Enns’ credit, one that moves him deeply. Surely anybody with that concern should believe that the method for reaching the target audience should not use rhetoric to cover lack of truth.
Hence I will focus largely on the arguments presented. However I think a very subjective comment – and I acknowledge that it is subjective – on the style is appropriate. It reads like a basically serious person trying to be humorous and that can be painful rather than funny. In the cover blurb Rob Bell says “And he’s funny.” I found it rather wearisome. As the author describes his own journey, it is one of a drift into a basically conservative or evangelical position in adolescence until the point where the inadequacies of that position were revealed to him. The book reads as if it is directed to the adolescent he once was, trying to interrupt the journey at a much earlier point than his was intercepted. Or maybe the style reflects that of his own lectures at present. Whatever the case, I wonder about the wisdom of the style. By its apparent irreverence it will antagonise serious evangelicals, but maybe the author believes that that constituency is beyond reaching. As for the audience, which seems to be his target, adolescents do grow up. I suspect he will condemn himself to temporary impact rather than lasting impression. That should not bother me because I disagree basically with what he is saying. However the author is a person who has had a journey into which more disappointment and sadness has been mixed that we would wish for him. The more he moves into the role of the guru of the once-evangelical-but-now-liberated crowd, the less the possibility of healing old breaches. Such breaches are not just intellectual. They are also emotional and inter-personal. While conceptually this work is the logical extension of the position in Inspiration and Incarnation, where there was a plea to evangelicals to reconsider their traditional position, this work goes further. Behind the attempted lightness of this work are serious concerns. Yet the apparent irreverence of the humorous touches may further antagonise those who disagree and leave those who agree using weak arguments. That is a recipe for further alienation.
However, I am going to concentrate on the arguments. Basically, the work presents a fairly common understanding of the authors of the Bible as victims of Historical Determinism. They could not but present the views of their time, erroneous although some of those were. God was happy with that because he allows the believers to tell their own story. Enns is relieved by that explanation, because it allows him to see the genocide involved in the killing of the Canaanites as something that did not happen, but was rather the reading of the past by people defined by their tribal way of life, who, naturally read God as a tribal leader slaughtering his foes.
Historical Determinism is a two-edged sword. If its premises are correct, then we also should be every bit as trapped by the beliefs of our time. That means I should be able to explain Enns as forced by the modern context of concern about genocide to want to explain it away. And Enns could then interpret my critique of him as determined by some tendency in the present world, and so on and so on.
We come then to a crucial practical difference between Modernists and Post-Modernists. Modernists say, “The people before us were ignorant and unenlightened, repeating false views. We are different.” Post-Modernists say: “We are all trapped in our context. What we say now will be ridiculed by our descendants. Let’s go and have another beer!”
In these terms Enns is a Modernist, in that he shows no awareness of the logical consequences of his own position. Of course Biblical Studies is a field where Modernism is still very influential. Another way of saying this is to point to the reverence granted to scholarly “consensus”. Once again Enns fits the Modernist profile.
Allow me to illustrate what Modernism does and why Biblical Studies, of the Enns variety, is trapped in its own rhetoric. The tribe is central to Enns’ description of the false narrative of genocide. Savagery and killing are to be taken for granted as the expectations of the tribal mode of existence. Really? Is that what an exhaustive review of the Anthropological literature would conclude about every tribe and thus of the tribal state? Is it what scholarship has concluded from the Mari texts, our best windowinto the conduct of tribes from the Ancient Near East?[1]
I am not faulting Enns for not giving a review of the scholarly literature in a popular book. I am objecting to the simplistic equation of a mode of physical existence
with ethically suspect behaviour. One cannot require that a popular book show all the reasoning but one can expect that the premises are reasonable.
Since Enns professes an ethical concern, allow me to throw in one. Tribal peoples worldwide have been cruelly treated just on the basis of their tribal mode of existence. The tragic history of settler interaction with the aboriginal people of Australia was influenced by Adam Smith’s doctrines that nomads have no legal ownership of land and of the inevitable death of members of less advanced civilizations. Anti-Semitism played on notions that Jews were determined by the evils of their tribal past.
I am not accusing Enns of any of those moral flaws or their consequences. What I am saying is that rather than doing the hard work, on his own theory, of explaining the Bible as a human product of its environment, he resorts to the cliche of the murderous savage.
If I stopped there I would be accused of using this to avoid the problem of Canaanite genocide. Let us consider the response of Jesus in Luke 13:1-5 to the report of the massacre of Galileans by Pilate. Jesus does not dispute the belief that this was a judgement of God. He disputes that one could deduce from it that the victims were worse sinners than others. All deserve to perish. One could note also the trumpets in Revelation. With the trumpets giving warning of the even greater judgement to come, a third in each case are destroyed, but the rest did not repent (9:20) leading to the total judgements that follow. The whole Bible does not shrink from ascribing judgement to God and yet it depicts the judgement of some as warning to the rest.
Enns’ attempt to deal with the interpretation of the death of the Canaanites as a judgement, one of the few times he considers a counter explanation, is instructive. He says Jesus does not talk about “hell” but about Gehenna, the name of one of the valleys outside the old city of Jerusalem, and Enns gives a history of how that came to be seen as a place of divine punishment.[2]  That hardly speaks to the point because, if Jesus believes in eternal punishment, it does not really matter what he calls it. I wonder if Enns is trying to say that this was only a here-and-now judgement and not an eternal judgement. Of course that does not solve the problem of the Canaanites because, even if you do not believe in eternal judgement, they did die.
He then diverts to the story of the Canaanite woman in the gospels to whom Jesus shows mercy. Yet this too has nothing to do with the argument that the death of the Canaanites should be seen as a judgement of God. In reality he has not answered the argument that the death of the Canaanites is to be seen as the judgement of God. He can object that it seems contrary to our notions of fairness for God to single out some rather than others for punishment. Yet if we believe in an active God, the providence of God presents us with that problem every day.
I think Enns would have been advised, during his time at Westminster, to have given more consideration to Van Til’s position. A logical, internally consistent, argument cannot be refuted by an argument built on totally different premises. The Bible’s view of God and his judgements is consistent. For Enns to admit that and to set over against it a secular understanding of justice would just make clear that he is coming to the Bible with an outside standard.
Another way to capture his problem with Determinism is to take one of his favourite themes: story. According to him the Bible writers are giving stories and every story inevitably reads events, not as they really happened, but as the teller wishes to see them. Fine, except for the fact that he tells his own story and thus opens himself to that very same interpretation. As he tells the story he was struggling with things, which did not cohere with the traditional evangelical interpretation of infallibility. Then in his second year of graduate school at Harvard came a piece of information, which changed his whole perspective. (I will return to the specifics below.)  Yet we know he then went on to teach for fourteen years at Westminster Theological Seminary, an institution that requires of its faculty adherence to the Westminster Confession including that crucial bit in I:IV
The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
Enns’ position, after the shock at Harvard, hardly fits there. And yet, was he guilty of dissembling when he joined the Westminster Faculty? I suspect not, and I certainly hope not. Rather, I suspect that there was a process of working through the incompatibility of his own doubts and the traditional position of the seminary. Certainly, when one reads what he wrote while there, one can see the attempt to make the two positions come together. Yet that more complex process is not reflected in the story presented in this book.
My point is that much of his evidence for his understanding of the Bible rests on the fact that the Bible’s various stories show the lack of mutual coherence that must result when various partial stories of the one event are compared. He argues this from a comparison of the gospels and from a comparison of Samuel-Kings with Chronicles. My point is simply that another telling of the Enns’ story might present a somewhat different perspective. Is his own telling of his story wrong? Of course not! I just suspect it has simplified a more complex process of growing awareness. What else could he do, because a book, especially one with a popular format, cannot be too long! Why then are similar phenomena in biblical stories to be seen as evidence of tendentiousness?
I am aware that in arguing this way that I am conceding Enns’ crucial point of the “humanness” of the Bible. However what we do with that humanness is the crucial question. To set up the criterion that every telling of a story has to agree and then to argue from the failure of the Bible to meet that is to come to the Bible with false expectations. Truth does not depend upon exhaustiveness.
I mentioned above the problem that one cannot expect, in a popular work, the sort of reference to, and refutation of, alternate positions that one expects in an academic work. Yet what if the popular work promotes a position that has failed to take note of significant data? Certainly an author can argue that he does not need to acknowledge the problem because he is presenting his particular slant on things and inconvenient data belongs to a rival view. He can say this but I think he has then passed from Modernism to Post-Modernism and Enns is not presenting what he sees as just one equally valid view. If he conceded his view as just one of a number of views, he would have to say that the traditional evangelical view is an equally valid one.
Enns presents a very common scholarly view of Chronicles in which the Chronicler, for his own reasons in his own context, is presenting a sanitized view of David and Solomon as compared with the account in Samuel and Kings.[3]  What he does not tell us is that that view of the Chronicler was developed at a time when modern scholarship was attempting to free itself from what it saw as an oppressive ecclesiastical establishment, and because Chronicles contained frequent references to priests and Levites, it was seen as representing that sort of cultic establishment. Therefore whenever Chronicles deviated from the story in Samuel-Kings it had nefarious and tendentious purposes.
Once again we come back to the problem of Historical Determinism. This time it is the question of whether it can be turned against the scholarly “consensus”. Surely on Enns’ own logic, the scholarship upon which he depends can be seen as a product of its times, using a story for tendentious purposes.
A reality that Modernists struggle with is the fact that data has various possible interpretations. Certainly Chronicles presents different material to that in Samuel-Kings, and its emphases can often be seen as appropriate to the work’s probable post-exilic context.[4]  However, difference from Samuel-Kings does not mean that the Chronicler is “correcting” Samuel-Kings and deliberately whitewashing David and Solomon. A crucial passage is 2 Chronicles 10:15, where, in spite of the fact that his account has entirely passed over the sins of Solomon, he sees the division of the kingdom as a fulfilment of the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam. To know that prophecy one has to go to the Kings account. In other words the Chronicler assumes his readership’s knowledge of Kings and that can be argued from other passages as well. It is scarcely likely that a work dependent on another account is setting out to correct that account. As the title of the work in the Septuagint (“things left out”) indicates, it is setting out to supplement the earlier work.
A consequence of scholarship’s reflection of the times is that scholarship changes as positions that owed their plausibility to factors in the scholars, rather than in the data, are, sometimes dramatically, sometimes quietly, abandoned. Enns gives the prominence of younger brothers in the earlier history as an example of the influence of later times on the way biblical history is written. The motif he points to in Genesis is really there, and its repetition is a reflection of the way in which there are common features in the stories of the different patriarchs. Enns takes this one particular feature and sees it as the story being shaped by the opposition of younger brother, Judah, and older brother, Israel, in the monarchy period. However when an earlier generation of scholarship observed that same phenomenon of repetition, they interpreted it in terms of separate traditions which had been combined into one narrative in the period of dull-wittedness, which we must expect in a time of priestly dominance. The interpretation given by Enns reflects a shift to reading the Bible writers less as dull-witted and more as politically tendentious. It is not the data that determines the interpretation; it is the presuppositions favoured in the period of the scholarship. Of course there is an alternate explanation of that same data: God is showing that his power and blessing is more important than natural advantage.
Should a popular work go through all these various interpretations? No, but one might hope that a work aimed to deliver people from traditionalism might encourage them to think about the fact that data is not unambiguous, no matter what the current fads of scholarship are.
I have suggested that Enns might have spent some time meditating on Van Til. I would also suggest that a study of Machen would be profitable, especially a study of The Origin of Paul’s Religion. Machen was contending with a movement, which wanted to make Paul the founder of Christianity. In that particular case the consequence was the removal of Christianity from its attachment to Judaism and its connection to Greek, i.e. Indo-European, antecedents, and once more knowledge of the period of the scholarship suggests interesting connections. Enns’ treatment of Paul is a decided improvement in that he gives recognition to Paul’s Jewish context. However, effectively Paul is depicted as the one who, faced with the totally unexpected death of the Messiah, has to reinterpret the Old Testament to fit.[5]  Included, according to Enns, in Paul’s rewriting of OT theology is the view, contrary to the OT, that the basic human problem is sin.[6]
Several matters are involved here. One is the persistent attempt by Enns and similar writers to claim that the NT’s exegesis of the OT is invalid and quite contrary to the intent of the Old. If you have described the OT as coming about by the application of very limited human knowledge and perspectives, then it is a problem if the NT sees something else in it. Further, all these positions are implicitly Deistic: God does not involve himself in the world to inspire prophets, therefore anything that looks supernatural, such as prediction of the future, does not fit. The contrary opinion of Jesus is dealt with by making him also a man limited and determined by his time.[7]
A second feature is that it is part of a shift in thinking about Jewish literature of the time, influenced partly by the Dead Sea Scrolls. This school of thought believes that there was a broad movement of reinterpreting the Hebrew Bible to adapt it to the situation faced by the Jewish community of the time.[8]  It is not that this approach is wrong in itself but note the consequence when the NT authors are seen through that lens. It means the NT is just one more example of a tendentious adaption of the OT to different circumstances. Note further that this is a very Jewish interpretation of the NT. Christianity becomes a rather bizarre variant of contemporary Judaism rather than the proper culmination and development of the OT.
The prominence that Enns gives to Paul leaves a question unanswered. What does he think of Jesus? He claims Jesus was fully divine and fully human but it is the fully human which he wants to emphasise.[9]  He refers to his death and resurrection but is that an historical event or a perception of his disciples?[10]  If he is a man of his times and he is wrong about the OT predicting him, what are we to think of him? The book does not answer. If sin as the human problem was what Paul falsely read into the OT, then it is not just the evangelical doctrine of Scripture that is in question. Once again we come back to the story Enns tells of his life. In his time at Westminster he was saying that he regarded himself as within the Reformed and Evangelical fold. Could he not see that the view of Scripture he was advocating must impact other doctrines as well? Or is it that out of the Westminster context he has become more consistent?
The question of the relationship of Christianity to Judaism brings us back to his awakening moment: the fact that Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:4 refers to the Israelites drinking from the rock that followed them. His Harvard professor, as many others have, related that passage to the Jewish story of a rock that rolled along after the Israelites to provide them with water. Enns described himself as being shattered by the realisation that Paul believed “stupid things like rocks follow people around in the desert to give them a drink.”[11]
Once again we have a problem of data and the interpretation of data. This data has been known to evangelicals for a long time. The most common way to deal with it has been to assume that Paul knew of the Jewish legend but, without accepting it, used it to make a very different point of his own: namely that the significant companion of the Israelites on their journey was Jesus. That is why he said Jesus was a “spiritual” rock. In other words it is a physical to spiritual analogy. Paul does not have to accept the truth of the legend to do this. Indeed he might be seen as denying it by saying the reality was spiritual not physical.[12]
I would have thought that any resort to a commentary would have supplied Enns with that solution. If it did not, it might be because the real issue was that Paul was linking Jesus to the OT, which on Enns’ understanding of the process by which the OT came into being, was not a legitimate connection. In other words the data about Paul is not as significant as the understanding of the process of Scripture formation.
I have one more example of the problems that arise with Enns’ approach. He dates the Babylonian Creation Epic, Enuma Elish, to the time of the Babylonian king Hammurabi.[13] Since he likes to appeal to scholarly consensus he might be interested to know that that is not the scholarly consensus.[14] Composition is now placed in the late second millennium B.C., whereas Hammurabi was early second millennium.
However the reason for the shift is instructive. The obvious purpose of the text is to exalt Marduk’s temple in Babylon and with that the city of Babylon itself.[15] It seemed logical therefore to connect the text to the times of the king who first made Babylon an imperial capital: Hammurabi. However Hammurabi, and his dynasty, did not treat Marduk, their city god, as king of the gods, which is the crucial theological climax of Enuma Elish. The consensus position now dates the composition of the text to the later period where that theological shift is attested.
The basic problem is that our copies of Enuma Elish come from a much later period and all theories about time of composition are conjectures. It seemed perfectly logical to date the text to Hammurabi. It fitted the logic that a text must reflect its context. Yet that theory was possibly wrong and lacks the expected supporting evidence. The crucial problem is that we can conjecture all sorts of possible original contexts for a given text but there are always multiple possibilities. In reality neither early nor later dating might be correct if we are looking at a work composed by a true believer whose beliefs about Marduk and Babylon were indifferent to political realities.
The problems with this text are obviously duplicated with the various hypothetical datings of biblical texts, especially when the authors are believed to be responding mostly to political factors because those factors are most important in today’s secular culture.[16]
I mentioned before the mystery of the role, which Jesus plays in Enns’ religion. There seems to be some vague mystical god, who allows believers to do their own thing, but the contours of that belief are very vague. The book is more about what not to believe than about what to believe. Perhaps the Deism, where God plays no role in inspiring Scripture, is compensated by a mystical Jesus but I am not sure even of that. Structurally it might fit with a liberal Judaism.
 So what is the conclusion about this work? I am perfectly happy to concede that its style may appeal to some. I think its major significance will be in showing how Enns has followed the logic of his earlier beliefs into greater and greater distance from orthodox Christianity. In doing this I suspect he has not helped the cause of his friends who have similar reservations about the Scriptures but want to stay with other evangelical teachings. I think this work says that he has consciously left that position far behind. As for the man himself, I suspect that the self-revelations may not reveal areas of hurt and disappointment. I think that in some core beliefs he is simply wrong but, as with many comedians, we would be wrong to see the humour as the most significant personal reality.
Noel Weeks is an Honorary Associate of the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Sydney and the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University, having previously taught Ancient History and Akkadian at the University of Sydney
Notes:
[1] John T. Luke,” Pastoralism and politics in the Mari period: a re-examination of the character and political significance of the major West Semitic tribal groups on the Middle Euphrates, ca. 1828-1758 B.C.” (PhD thesis, U. of Michigan, 1965)
[2] pp. 42-43
[3] pp. 95-97
[4] I have worked this out in detail in my Sources and Authors (Piscataway, NJ: Georgias, 2011)
[5] Enns sees similar things happening with the gospel writers and he could be interpreted to say that they were all doing the same thing but I suspect, from the prominence he gives to Paul, that he sees Paul as the crucial influence.
[6] Those who, like Enns, see the creation narratives of Genesis as contrary to science and to be rejected for that reason, struggle to know what to do with the NT’s appeal to them, particularly Romans 5:12-19. Enns is consistent. He not only removes Adam. He removes sin.
[7]  p. 188
[8]  Note this approach in Enns’ treatment of The Wisdom of Solomon in “Wisdom of Solomon and Biblical Interpretation in the Second Temple Period,” The Way of Wisdom(B. K. Waltke Festschrift), (eds. J. I. Packer and S. Soderlund, Zondervan, 2000), 212-25.
[9] p. 188
[10] p. 189
[11] p. 17
[12] There are further issues. Greg Beale has pointed out that there are issues such as whether the Jewish legend was extant in the first century AD and the possibility that Paul could have come to his exegesis independently by linking together various OT passages referring to the Angel of the Lord and God’s provision for Israel. (http://michaeljkruger.com/does-the-bible-ever-get-it-wrong-facing-scriptures-difficult-passages-1-greg-beale/ Accessed 11-4-14). I am curious about the origins of the legend. Note that the command in Num. 20:8 refers to “the rock”. Under the doctrine of R. Akiba that every word in the Torah was exegetically significant, the definite article would raise a question. Was it the already known and referred to rock from the earlier incident? If so, how was it found in a different place?  That is my speculation but if there is anything in it, then the legend would be post NT.
[13] p. 120
[14] W. G. Lambert, “A New Look at the Babylonian Background of Genesis,” JTS 16(1965): 291; ibid, “The Reign of Nebuchadnezzar 1: A Turning Point in the History of Ancient Mesopotamian Religion” in The Seed of Wisdom: Essays in Honour of T.J. Meek, (ed. W.S. McCullough; Toronto: University of Toronto, 1964), 3-13; W. Sommerfeld, Der Aufstieg Marduks, (Kevelaer: Butzon, and Bercker, 1982), 174-213; G. Komoroczy, “The Separation of Sky and Earth,” Acta Antiqua 21 (1973): 30; Benjamin R. Foster, Akkadian Literature of the Late Period (Guides to the Mesopotamian Textual Record, 2: Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2007), 24,25.
[15] The creation story in the text is a means to that end but the end in itself very clear. Modern scholarship tends to emphasise the creation aspects of the text because it needs an outside source for Genesis 1. Originally the motivation for seeing Genesis 1 as dependent on Enuma Elish was the Anti-Semitic Pan-Babylonian theory (K. Johanning, Der Bibel-Babel-Streit, (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1988). If the OT authors could be shown to be those who poorly copied Babylonian ideas, then their relevance for modern Germanic Christians was annulled. In more recent times the objectives are quite different. If biblical authors are original, the belief that they are trapped in their time collapses. Further the embarrassing clash with evolutionary theory can be eliminated if the biblical text can be explained as copying, or reacting to, an obviously mythological text. Postulating that the author of Genesis 1 knew the text of Enuma Elish itself comes up against the problem of explaining how an Israelite came to know the esoteric Babylonian in which it is written and yet missed the point that it is really about exalting Babylon. That problem is even more acute if it is postulated that all he knew was a popular version, for we might expect a popular version to stress the main point.
[16] Notice how scholarship plays lip service to interpreting a work in its original context but cannot stop itself from reading the text in modern terms.
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A NEW EDITION OF JOHN FLAVEL’S WORKS

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A nonconformist, unifier, husband of three deceased wives, victim of religious persecution, and author of what has been collected into six volumes of reprinted Works, John Flavel (c.1630-1691) of Dartmouth, England not only had an immense following during his own lifetime, but deeply influenced those who would set the course as shapers of religion and culture in the generations to follow.

Flavel’s influence remained strong until the end of the nineteenth century, when (for various reasons) historiographical, philosophical, and Christian literature ceased to recognize his life or thought. However, over the last twenty-five years or so, John Flavel has enjoyed increasing popularity among academics, pastors, and laypeople alike, evidenced by the growing number of books and articles on Flavel as well as the number of students taking post-graduate courses of study on his life and thought. More than ever, people are asking, “Who was John Flavel?” And then they ask, “How do you pronounce his last name?”

John Flavel’s Legacy & Writing

Anthony á Wood (1632-1695), the Oxford historian, once (reportedly) noted that Flavel had “more disciples than ever John Owen the Independent, or Rich. Baxter the Presbyterian.” Increase Mather, himself a well-known New England Puritan and Harvard College president, once wrote shortly after Flavel’s death: “[Flavel’s] works, already published, have made his name precious in both Englands; and it will be so, as long as the earth shall endure.”

Flavel’s Works have been published and reprinted numerous times as a collected whole since their first publication in 1701–thirteen editions during the eighteenth century alone! Since Flavel’s first printed work in 1664, there have now been at least 721 printings of his roughly thirty-five treatises and sermons. His best-selling work, A Saint Indeed, went through forty-one printings from 1668 to 1800.

Flavel’s writing style may be compared to Richard Baxter or John Bunyan in both its variations of simplicity and density. It is not as technical as that of John Owen, nor is its content as difficult to understand. But, as Iain Murray once said, “Certainly if the sustained regard of Christian readers is any guide, Flavel belongs to the very front rank of evangelical authors.” Charles Spurgeon, commenting on Flavel’s writings, believed that “Master John Flavel”–as he liked to call him–deserved “an honorable place among the makers of metaphors, emblems, etc.” He adds that Flavel is “greatest in metaphor and allegory” and that “[Flavel] was popular in the highest degree both at home and abroad.”

In addition to the wide variety of topics that Flavel wrote about, he also quoted over 550 different authors. These included ancient philosophers, Greek and Latin church fathers, Roman Catholic theologians, Continental Reformers, and other Puritans. He was a pastor-theologian who sought to communicate the doctrines of the Protestant and Reformed faith in a clear and practical way, which is why his writings may appropriately be considered works of practical divinity.

Well-known Puritans, such as John Howe, Matthew Henry, and Thomas Boston knew of and appreciated Flavel as a pastor and writer, as well as poets and writers, such as Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe). John Eliot, the early missionary to the Native Americans, read and enjoyed Flavel’s writings as did Isaac Watts, the great hymn writer, who described Flavel as “that most excellent, practical and evangelical writer.” John Howe, with several other prominent ministers, penned the preface to Flavel’s The Occasions, Causes, Nature, Rise, Growth and Remedies of Mental Errors, writing that Flavel did not “need any letters of recommendation from us,” but rather the preface was simply an “expression of respect to him, a debt.” Almost one year after Flavel’s death, Increase Mather lamented, “Dartmouth will know, Devonshire will know, that there has been a prophet among them.”

“Holy Mr. Flavel,” as Jonathan Edwards called him, is quoted in his Religious Affectionsmore often than Richard Baxter, John Owen, Richard Sibbes, John Calvin, Francis Turretin, William Ames, and William Perkins combined. Historian Frank Mott notes, “The two most popular devotional essayists of the Colonial period [were] John Flavel and James Hervey… [Flavel] had an amazing following in America for a hundred and fifty years…. His Works appear in the lists of titles advertised by Colonial booksellers probably more often than any others except those of Dr. Watts, and they continued to be popular well into the nineteenth century.”

Archibald Alexander, one of the founders of Princeton Theological Seminary, was converted through reading Flavel. He later recounted: “To John Flavel I certainly owe more than to any uninspired author.” Alexander’s son, James–also a noted Presbyterian minister and theologian–once remarked: “To my taste, Flavel is the most uniformly interesting, engaging, and refreshing writer on religion, ancient or modern.” He adds, “A mix of Baxter and Flavel would be my highest wish as a preacher.”

In December 2012, noted Puritan scholars Sinclair Ferguson, Carl Trueman, and Mark Dever overwhelmingly chose John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence as their favorite Puritan paperback title. J. I. Packer agrees: “Flavel is clear-headed and eloquent in the plain Puritan style, orthodox, Christ-focused and life-centered in his subject-matter, with his mind always set on advancing true godliness, with peace and joy in the Lord.” The resurgence in Puritan literature in general and that of Flavel in particular among Reformed communities is starting to provide a healthy amount of helpful resources for further study on Flavel’s life and thought.

The Project

The current six-volume edition of Flavel’s Works (W. Baynes and Son, 1820; rpt. The Banner of Truth Trust, 1968) has faithfully served generations of believers and has remained a strong favorite of Puritan literature. However, it contains antiquated punctuation, typographical errors, content errors, and was based on eighteenth-century rather than seventeenth-century documents. These later editions of Flavel’s Works have even inserted errors into the text where Flavel originally had them correct. It is time for a new complete edition of Flavel’s Works.

In the spring of 2013, I approached The Banner of Truth Trust with a proposal to produce and edit a completely new edition of Flavel’s Works based on the original documents. After months of deliberation and narrowing our focus, the agreement was made, and the task began. I asked two other Flavel scholars to help with this enormous project, Nathan Parker and Cliff Boone, and they provided invaluable assistance, especially with tracking down the roughly thirty-five individual treatises and works that were published in the later 1600s. I also assembled an Advisory Board to guide me in the project, which includes noted Puritan scholars Joel Beeke, Derek Thomas, Gerald Bray, John Coffey, Stephen Yuille, and Adam Embry.

The project is currently underway without an exact publication date (but expect it sometime late 2020 or early 2021). As you might imagine, the work is rather tedious and involves careful attention to detail. And yet, the content makes my soul soar! My prayer is that this new edition of Flavel’s Works will provide many generations of believers spiritually-rich, Christ-exalting literature to spur affections for our Lord and King, Jesus Christ.

=====================================================================================================Dr. Brian H. Cosby serves as senior pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Signal Mountain, Tennessee, visiting professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, Atlanta, and author of over a dozen books, including John Flavel: Puritan Life and Thought in Stuart England.

5 “FAKE NEWS” STORIES THAT PEOPLE BELIEVE ABOUT EARLY CHRISTIANITY

There’s been a lot of chatter about “fake news” this year. Some stories, even though they have no basis in fact, are told so often, and with such conviction, that large numbers of people end up believing them anyway.

Some of these fake news stories even dupe legitimate political figures who repeat the story without realizing it’s false. And once a mainstream political figure repeats a story, it becomes even more entrenched in the national psyche.

While some fake news stories are rather harmless, others are dangerous. Most famous perhaps is the 2016 “Pizza Gate” incident, where a man falsely believed a pizza place was host to a child sex-trafficking ring, so he shot it up (thankfully, no one was hurt).

“Fake news” isn’t a new phenomenon, though. There’s quite a bit of fake news out there regarding the person of Jesus, the origins of the church, and the development of the Bible. Even though such “news” has no factual basis, it’s believed by an uncomfortably large number of people.

Here’s a sampling of five leading stories.

1. Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.

Perhaps there’s no conspiracy theory about early Christianity more sensational and captivating than the claim that Jesus was married and had children. It’s not only fodder for books like The Da Vinci Code, but it seems to pop up again and again in the mainstream media (see a recent example here).

The problem, of course, is that this belief is patently false. There’s no evidence Jesus was married.

(For a fuller critique of this idea, see my article here.)

2. The deity of Jesus wasn’t decided until the Council of Nicea in the fourth century.

Another widespread conviction is that Jesus was merely an ordinary human who was exalted to divine status by the council of Nicea. They then suppressed (and oppressed) all who insisted otherwise.

Again, however, the evidence for an early belief in Jesus’s divinity is overwhelming. As early as the 50s of the first century, Paul applies the monotheistic creed of Israel to the person of Jesus, declaring: “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” (1 Cor. 8:6). There’s good evidence Paul is drawing on earlier tradition in this passage, indicating that such a belief was present at the beginning of the Christian movement.

(For more on the early divinity of Jesus, see Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the God of Israel.)

3. Christians didn’t have a ‘Bible’ until the time of Constantine.

Also making our top-five list is the oft-repeated claim that early Christians, at least for the first four centuries, didn’t have a Bible. They were reliant merely on ever-changing oral tradition. And this problem wasn’t resolved until Constantine commissioned the production of a Bible in the fourth century (containing only the books he preferred).

While this is yet another intriguing conspiracy theory, it lacks any historical foundation. The earliest Christians had a “Bible” from day one—what we now call the Old Testament. For them, the Old Testament was the undisputed Word of God, and they were deeply committed to its authority. Moreover, from an early point Christians regarded their own books as scriptural, and a core New Testament canon is evident by the early to middle second century.

(For a brief discussion of this point, see my article here. For more detail, see my full-length volumeThe Question of Canon.)

4. The ‘Gnostic’ Gospels like Thomas were just as popular as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Ever since the discovery of the so-called Gnostic Gospels at Nag Hammadi in 1945, it’s been popular to insist that these “lost” Gospels were once more popular than our canonical ones. During the first few centuries, we’re told, Christians read the Gospel of Thomas with equal (if not more) regularity than the books that made it into our Bibles.

This whole narrative has a clear purpose behind it: to convince people that all Gospels are pretty much the same, and no Gospel is more valid than another.

But this narrative quickly evaporates when one looks at the historical data. When it comes to nearly every line of evidence—frequency of citation, use as Scripture, number of manuscripts—it’s clear these apocryphal Gospels weren’t very popular after all. Indeed, all historical indicators show our four Gospels were, far and away, the most popular ones in the early church.

(For more on this point, see my article here, or check out Chuck Hill’s book Who Chose the Gospels?)

5. The words of the New Testament were radically changed and corrupted in the earliest centuries.

Rounding out our top-five fake news stories is the claim that the text of the New Testament has been so radically corrupted, edited, and changed that we can’t really know what the original authors said. Made famous by Bart Ehrman’s bestseller Misquoting Jesus, this story has been repeated ad infinitum.

But there’s no evidence for this level of radical corruption. Can we see scribal changes and mistakes in our New Testament manuscripts? Of course, but that’s true for every document of antiquity. The New Testament is no different.

And if there is a difference, it’s that the New Testament seems even more well-preserved than comparable documents in the ancient world. After generations of careful scholarship, and a wealth of manuscripts at our disposal, we can have great confidence in the words of the New Testament.

(For more on this issue, see the last chapter in my book The Heresy of Orthodoxy, or my review of Misquoting Jesus.)

These five examples of “fake news” about early Christianity get repeated so often people believe they must be true. Just like in the political world, however, we need to carefully examine the facts before we repeat the claims.


Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at Canon Fodder

THE 23rd PSALM by Sinclair Ferguson

It was many years before I could say, “I love Psalm 23.” I can still see the cover of my child’s storybook version. There stands David, ruby cheeks and curly hair, shepherd’s crook beside him, spotless sheep nearby. He was the model child—everything I was not. This perfect boy condemned me.

It took more than twenty years and some major sorrows before the key turned in the lock. That boy did not write this psalm. The David of Psalm 23 needed soul restoration (v. 3): he had visited “the valley of the shadow of death”; he faced “evil” (v. 4); he had enemies (v. 5). This was a well-tested believer speaking from long experience with God. His confidence about the future was based on experiences in the past.

But David was not staking everything simply on his own experience. He is not the first person in the Bible to say, “The Lord is my shepherd.” He was simply applying to himself something he had learned from Jacob.

Genesis 48:15–16 records the moving scene at the end of Jacob’s life when he blesses Joseph and his two sons:

The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day,
the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys.

Jacob had not been the easiest of sheep. Even after his encounter with the angel at Jabbok, he needed more untwisting. His sad repetition of his parents’ folly of having favorite children led to family dysfunction, jealousy, sin, and sorrow. But now he looked back with clear vision and marveled at the way the Shepherd had pursued and preserved him, hurt him only to protect him, and brought about so much good. His son Joseph had already seen that (45:5–8), and he would later confirm it: what others meant for evil, God meant for good (50:20)—the Old Testament version of Romans 8:28.

David had learned that what was true for Jacob was also true for him. And without mentioning any specific situations in his own life, he describes the Lord’s shepherding in a way that shows how applicable it is to every situation in our lives as well.

When you know that the Lord is your Shepherd, you can be confident you will lack nothing. Elsewhere, David records that even in old age he had never “seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread” (Ps. 37:25).

The verb David uses (“not want”/“lack nothing”) occurs elsewhere. During the wilderness wanderings, the people “had no lack” (Ex. 16:18). Moses could say: “These forty years the Lord your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing” (Deut. 2:7). God promised the same would be true in the land He was giving to them (8:9). He had made provision for this in the law concerning gleaning (Lev. 19:9–10).

Thus, David was probably also thinking of how Yahweh had led the multitude through the wilderness (Pss. 77:20; 78:32) and had proved Himself to be the “Shepherd of Israel” (80:1). If Yahweh could sustain that enormous flock, David concluded, then surely He could provide for one sheep. And now the Lord had vindicated his faith by meeting all his needs.

What looks at first like a shepherd’s lessons from shepherding turns out to be the confidence of a believer based on the truth of the Word of God and the revelation of His character. Perhaps this is less David the pastor thinking of caring for sheep and more David the expositor applying God’s Word to himself. He thus came to share the faith of Jacob and to experience the sovereign provision of the God of the exodus.

Jesus saw depths of meaning in these words; He must have sung them with joy. He looked back to His fathers Jacob and David and like them trusted His Father to provide all His needs. Indeed, as He explained to His puzzled disciples, His Father provided His nourishment: “I have food to eat that you do not know about. . . . My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:32, 34).

But Jesus must also have read Psalm 23 with a deep sense of burden. For He knew that, ultimately, He Himself was “the good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep” (10:11, 14). What Jacob and David saw only dimly, Jesus saw clearly. The Shepherd must suffer for His sheep.

As the Good Shepherd, Jesus would take the place of His sheep and be led to the slaughter (Isa. 53:7). For them He would be smitten (Zech. 13:7; see Matt. 26:31). He would give everything of Himself to provide everything for us. The implication? Since He was not spared but delivered up for us all, we can be sure He will give us everything we need (Rom. 8:32).

This is what a Christian means by saying, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

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TABLETALK MAGAZINE© 2018 Ligonier Ministries

WHY IT IS DESTRUCTIVE TO DENY THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN SUFFERING

Getting God Off the Hook?

When bad things happen and tragedies occur, many people feel like they need to get God off the hook. One of the ways they try to do that is by saying things like, “God didn’t have anything to do with this tragedy,” or “the devil is still the prince of this world.”

I remember after the 9/11 attacks a pastor was on the radio, and the host was asking him for some answers and explanations to help us make sense of such evil, death, and tragedy. The pastor explained that we need to remember that Satan is still the prince of this world. I think he had good intentions, but the reality is that teaching like this is not helpful to those who are encountering tragedy.

If God is limited in the bad things, that means God is limited in his ability to heal and redeem you.

What you’re saying with that kind of teaching is that God is limited. And if God is limited in the bad things, that means God is limited in his ability to heal and redeem you. You’re saying that his arm only stretches so long. So it may not stretch all the way to your heart, to your sorrow, and to your brokenness.

The Comfort of God’s Absolute Sovereignty

For me, one of the most comforting things in surviving and recovering from the death of my child was knowing that God was completely and fully in control in his death. Before he created the world, my God had marked the number of days that my son would live.

This book considers 12 life-giving truths that Christians can cling to in the midst of tragedy—truths that brought vital hope and comfort to the author when grieving the sudden loss of his 3-year-old son.

That means that his life was complete. That means that his death was not random; it was not accidental. That means that it has meaning and purpose.

And it also means that God is in control of my redemption and my healing.

UNASHAMED OF THE BIBLE

No matter which way my mind turns these days, I cannot escape the absolutely unique and essential role that the Bible plays in God’s purpose for the universe, and for history, and for the church, and for Christian schools, and for our personal lives, both now and in eternity.

“Without rightly discerning what’s revealed only in the Bible, we cannot know the most important realities in life.”

Our way of thinking and feeling and acting toward the Bible, and with the Bible, and from the Bible is decisive in whether our lives, schools, and churches conform to God’s saving, Christ-exalting purposes for history and for all of creation.

Think of the staggering implications for the billions of people around the world, including most of the highest and lowest educated, most of the rich and most of the poor — people of every tongue and tribe and nation, men and women, young and old, who virtually never orient what they think or feel or do around what God has revealed in the Bible.

Without the Bible

This is staggering because, without rightly discerning what is revealed only in the Bible, we cannot know the most important realities in life.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the true nature of God and the beauty of his holiness.

Without the Bible, we cannot know that magnifying God’s glory is the ultimate purpose of the universe.

Without the Bible, we cannot know that the way God has appointed for his glory to be most fully magnified is through a people who are supremely and eternally happy in him.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the eternal divinity of Christ, the Son of God, and that all things were made through him and for him.

Without the Bible, we cannot know that all things that exist — from galaxies to molecules — are held in existence by the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God.

Without the Bible, we cannot know that the Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ.

“If we are embarrassed by parts of the Bible, the love of human approval over God’s approval has begun to take root.”

Without the Bible, we cannot know the unsearchable riches of Christ’s achievements on the cross — his propitiation of the wrath of God, his enduring the curse of the law, his bearing the condemnation of the elect, his becoming sin though he knew no sin, his bearing the weight of the iniquities of all his people, his purchasing forgiveness, acceptance, adoption, escape from hell, entrance into eternal life, and God’s yes to all the promises of Scripture for his people.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the way of salvation by grace through faith as a gift of God apart from works of the law.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the almighty power of the Holy Spirit raising us from spiritual death, and granting us new birth, and giving us new hearts, and sealing us for God’s possession through faith, and preserving us to the day of Christ and forever.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the true path of holiness and how the Holy Spirit by faith works in us the fruits of righteousness that come through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the meaning of the church with Christ as the head of the body, and all the hosts of heaven watching as the wisdom of God is played out in the gathering of the redeemed from all the peoples of the world.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the meaning of marriage as a God-designed drama of the covenant love between Christ and his church.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the meaning of our own physical bodies as bought with Christ’s blood for the housing of the Spirit of God.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the dimensions of literature and art which approximate ultimate truth.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the source and goal of science.

And without the Bible, we cannot know how to love anyone fully — that is, in a way that does them everlasting good.

We can know none of these things in a saving way — that is, in a way that does anyone, ourselves or others, any lasting good — apart from rightly discerning what is revealed in the Bible. And therefore, all the aims of communication, apart from a right handling of the Bible, come to naught.

Therefore, more and more, it has seemed to me that the future God-glorifying faithfulness, and Spirit-dependent obedience, and Christ-exalting fruitfulness in our churches, and in our schools and institutions, and in our lives, depend on a certain way of thinking and feeling about the Bible.

So my ten aspirations for Christian communicators, whether pastors, preachers, writers, teachers, editors, parents, or friends, are all formulated in relation to that — our thinking and our feeling about the Bible.

Hearts That Hear

Someone may ask — indeed I ask — “But don’t deep heart realities of humility, and spiritual life, and submission to God, and sensitivity to spiritual reality precede and enable a right handling of the Bible? And shouldn’t that be the goal of Christian schools and ministries — to cultivate a kind of heart and mind that creates the humility and submissiveness that then is yielded to everything the Bible teaches?”

“We cannot escape the absolutely unique and essential role that the Bible plays in God’s purpose for the universe.”

Certainly, we should have a commitment to those deeper realities. But here’s the catch: the only reason we know that such realities must exist before the Bible can be known and loved and handled as it ought to be is that the Bible teaches us that they must.

The Bible teaches us that something deeper than the Bible makes it possible for the human heart to submit to the Bible. Therefore, how will we ever articulate and justify the goal to pursue something in the heart deeper than the Bible without using the Bible?

This means that among our aspirations for Christian writing and preaching and teaching must be that we would handle the Bible in ways that make it likely for us to find in the Bible everything we need to find there in order to use the Bible rightly.

Ten Aspirations

So let me suggest ten aspirations, or aims, for Christian communicators as they relate to how we think and feel and act toward the Bible.

1. Embrace Inerrancy

Let us make it our aim that every pastor and teacher, every faculty member and administrator, every writer and speaker will give joyful and hearty assent to the complete truthfulness — that is, inerrancy — of the Bible in all that it teaches.

2. Be Unashamed

Let us make it our aim that we will be unashamed of everything that the Bible describes as the will of God as it was or is to be done when God appointed for it to be done. For example, unashamed of God’s command in the book of Joshua that all the Canaanites be killed. Unashamed of his permission of polygamy and divorce and slavery in the Old Testament. Unashamed of his command that Isaiah walk around naked. Unashamed of the inspired writers’ holy hatred of wicked people — in the Psalms, for example. Unashamed of the creation of the world six thousand years ago, if that’s what the text teaches. Unashamed of the command that spiritually qualified men, rather than women, be the elders of churches and the heads of two-parent families. Unashamed that there is only one way of salvation — through knowing and believing the gospel of Christ. Unashamed of the teaching that those who practice homosexuality or greed or drunkenness or reviling or swindling, and are unrepentant, will suffer eternally in hell.

For if we are embarrassed by parts of the Bible, the love of human approval over God’s approval has begun to take root. And this root is the source of much defection from biblical truth, especially in the academic life (John 5:44).

3. Pursue the Authors’ Intentions

Let us aim to be committed to all the teaching of the Bible in such a way that congregants and readers and students are equipped to pay detailed attention to its words and phrases and clauses and logic, and to penetrate through these human instruments to the authors’ mental, emotional, and behavioral intentions, and to the great realities that they are trying to communicate.

4. Build a Biblical Vision of Reality

Let us aim to build teams that reflect so deeply on the realities of Scripture in relationship to all other observations in all other disciplines that students and readers are enabled to see the profound relevance of the biblical vision of reality for everything they think and study, so that there will be no embarrassment whatsoever that we relate everything to Scripture, and test everything by Scripture, because we have discovered that God’s revelation about the world can never be superficial or irrelevant.

5. Speak with Precision

Let us aim to handle the Scriptures with such precision, and care, and insight, and spiritual illumination, and experiential authenticity, that we do not default to speaking in vague generalities about God’s will and God’s way, but actually are able to point to specific verses in the Bible where glorious reality is revealed and where the will of God and the ways of God are made explicit, and can do so in such a way that we happily cite the very words of Scripture with little concern whether we are criticized of proof texting. In other words, let it stand as a continual warning that for the last hundred years those who reject the reality behind Scripture have done so while continuing to use Christian language, but avoiding precise textual citations.

6. Love the Languages

Let us aim to put a high premium in our pastoral training on the mastering of Greek and Hebrew to the extent that future preachers have sufficient confidence that when they interpret the Greek and Hebrew text of the Old and New Testaments, they are extracting the author’s intention, and are in touch with the reality God is revealing behind and through the text. Let us never allow the pragmatic pressure for pastors to be more immediately helpful to diminish our confidence that the teaching of Greek and Hebrew will, in fact, make them even more helpful in the long run in the church of Christ.

7. Cultivate Habits of Heart

“The Bible teaches us that something deeper than the Bible makes it possible for the heart to submit to the Bible.”

Let us aim to make the Bible so foundational and so pervasive in all aspects of our college and seminary curricula that it is never seen to be the purview of only one department, like biblical studies, rather than being essential to every department, such that students really do perceive that the serious study of Scripture deepens their capacities in six habits of heart: observation, understanding, evaluation, feeling, application, and expressing. Let us seek to make the Bible so prominent and so pervasive and so profoundly relevant in dealing with every kind of subject matter that students grow in their confidence that what can be known only through the Bible enhances and deepens and clarifies and empowers everything they learn from other sources.

8. Celebrate the Relevance

Let us aim to handle the Bible in such a way that the Bible will always stand out to those who read what we write, and hear what we say, as a source of utterly timely, relevant, and indispensable divine revelation concerning the world we live in. Let us never give the impression that this Book is somehow dated, or passé, or irrelevant, but in fact is brimming with the kind of human, historical, cultural, social, psychological, relational wisdom that goes deeper, and lasts longer, than the passing trends of all the humanities and social and physical sciences.

9. Display Contagious Esteem

Let us aim to teach and explain the Bible in such a way, and live the Bible in such a way, as to encourage and equip and empower future pastors and teachers and writers to communicate in a way that those who hear them will recognize their highest esteem for the authority and wisdom and value of the Bible, and will be thankful, and even amazed, at the treasures that they share from Scripture for the living of the Christian life with all its joys and sorrows.

10. Pray Earnestly and Continually

Let us aim to cultivate an ethos of earnest and continual prayer for the God-given humility and illumination that not only opens us to the deepest and richest meaning of what the Bible teaches, but also enables us to see the self-authenticating glory of God in and through the text, which provides the foundation of our unshakable confidence in the divine origin and authority and universal relevance of the Bible.

If God would be pleased, in his mercy and power, to fulfill these aims in the years to come, I believe that the God-glorifying faithfulness, and Spirit-dependent obedience, and Christ-exalting fruitfulness of our churches and ministries and academic institutions would exceed all our expectations.

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WHY I READ PROVERBS EVERY DAY by Don Whitney

Proverbs has always been one of my favourite books. When as a young man it was called to my attention that there’s a chapter for each of the thirty-one days in a month, I began the habit of daily reading the chapter of Proverbs that corresponds with the day of the month. After doing so now for over forty years, I was astonished to realise that means I’ve read through the book of Proverbs more than five hundred times. And I plan to continue the practice for the rest of my life, for I never outgrow the need for the practical wisdom of this divinely-inspired book.

But I must admit there are places in the Proverbs where I’m sometimes tempted to think, ‘Why do I need to read this again?’ When I come to chapter seven, for example, I’m so familiar with the story that I know exactly what’s going to happen when the foolish young man decides to walk down the street where the adulteress lurks. I want to say to the guy, ‘Don’t go down there this month! You’ve gone down there every month for forty years and it always ends badly. For once could you take a different route?’ But every month he heads down there, and he always ends up ‘going down to the chambers of death’ (7:27).

WHY READ IT AGAIN AND AGAIN?

Since I know the passage by heart, why read it again? Then a few years ago I awakened to the reality that when the beginnings of such temptations inevitably come my way, I’m never more than thirty days away from a fresh warning of the ruin that comes from yielding so seduction. I don’t think I’ll ever reach the point where I don’t need that warning — frequently.

‘Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall,’ (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Because of my love for the Proverbs and the perpetual value the wisdom of the book has been for my life, I wanted to instil its counsel early in the life of my daughter. So from the time she was very young, I began incorporating the book of Proverbs into our family worship routine.

A SIMPLE, EFFECTIVE EXERCISE

Here’s how I did it. In the beginning I would read a third of a chapter to her every night. During the first month of every quarter (that is, January, April, July, and October) I would read the first third of the chapter that corresponds with the day of each month.

On the second month of each quarter I read the middle third of the chapter for the day. And on the last month of the quarter I read the last third of the chapter. So on January 1 I read Proverbs 1:1-11 (or thereabouts). On February 1 I read Proverbs 1:12-22. And on March 1 I read Proverbs 1:23-33.

After a few years, I started reading half a chapter each night, alternating every other month. So on January 1 I read Proverbs 1:1-17 or so, and on February 1 I read Proverbs 1:18-33. Then when she was old enough, I began reading the entire chapter each evening, covering all of chapter one on the first of every month, all of chapter two on the second of each month, and so forth.

After these few minutes in the Proverbs, I would turn to wherever else we were reading in the Bible at that time.

Somewhere along the way I stumbled upon a practice that dramatically increased her listening and understanding. Before I started reading I said, ‘I want you to pick a verse and explain it to me, and one for me to explain to you.’ This made a huge difference. Often, of course, her explanation of a verse was off base or unclear. That gave me another occasion to make the Bible clearer to her. I commend this simple, but effective, exercise to you.


BANNER OF TRUTH ONLINE; This article was originally published at BiblicalSpirituality.org