Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Apocrypha

Yesterday my family and I continued reading Chapter 3, “The Canon of Scripture,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology in our after breakfast Bible reading time, reading parts of the second half of its section on the canon of the Old Testament. It considers the Apocrypha, a collection of books included in the canon of the Old Testament by Roman Catholics but not by Protestants. Here I’ll sketch its historical background, list its contents, and give reasons why Protestants don’t include it in the canon.

In the third century B.C. Jews in Alexandra, Egypt, translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek. Generally referred to as the Septuagint (from the Latin for “seventy”) or LXX (the Roman numerals for “seventy”) because of the tradition that 70 Jewish scholars did the translation in 70 days, it included the Apocrypha. In the second century A.D. the church undertook a translation of the Bible into Latin. Because it translated the Old Testament from the LXX rather than from the Hebrew Bible, it included the Apocrypha although generally recognizing that the Apocrypha lacked the authority of the Hebrew Bible.

The Protestant Reformers argued that since Jesus and his disciples used the shorter Hebrew Bible and since some of the books in the Apocrypha included incorrect historical information, the Apocrypha should not be included in the canon of the Old Testament or used as a basis for beliefs and practices. The Roman Catholic Church reacted by reaffirming at the Council of Trent (1545-47 A.D.) the inclusion of the Apocrypha in the Old Testament. Thus we have Roman Catholic and Protestant canons of the Old Testament.

The Apocrypha includes the following books: Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, Baruch, Epistle of Jeremiah (Baruch 6), Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children (Daniel 3:24-90), Susanna (Daniel 13), Bel and the Dragon (Daniel 14), 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, and Prayer of Manasseh. I’ve given them in the order that they’re given in the NRSV. That version also includes Psalm 151, 3 Maccabees, 2 Esdras (4 Ezra), and 4 Maccabees. Note that the NRSV’s being produced by an ecumenical committee of scholars, it places the Apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments rather than integrating it into the Old Testament as Roman Catholic Bibles do.

In his Systematic Theology Grudem gives these reasons why the books of the Apocrypha shouldn’t be included in the canon:
– they don’t claim for themselves the same kind of authority as the books of the Old Testament
– the Jews didn’t include them in the canon
– Jesus and the writers of the New Testament didn’t treat them as Scripture
– they contain teachings inconsistent with the rest of the Bible.

He concludes that we can be confident that the Old Testament in our Bible contains all that it should contain and doesn’t contain anything that it shouldn’t contain. Thus we can put our trust in it.


The Canon of the Old Testament

Yesterday my family and I began reading Chapter 3, “The Canon of Scripture,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology in our after breakfast Bible reading time. We read the introduction to the chapter and parts of the first half of its section on the canon of the Old Testament. We expect to spend three more days reading from the chapter.

The canon of the Bible is the list of books that belong to the Bible. The importance of having such a list is suggested by what Moses warned the Israelites about their Bible, “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2; all quotations from the Bible are from the ESV).

The first collection of the words of God was the Ten Commandments, which God Himself wrote on two tablets of stone and ordered to be kept in the ark of the covenant. “And he (God) gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God” and “the Lord said to me [Moses], ‘…you shall put them in the ark'” (Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 10:1-2).

Deuteronomy 31:24-26 describes Moses’s adding to the collection, “When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, ‘Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.” And Joshua 24:26 records Joshua’s adding to that Book of the Law, “Joshua wrote these words [the covenant he made with the people that they would serve God] in the Book of the Law.” Others added to it through Israel’s history until the time of Malachi (about 435 B.C.)

The last historical book of the Old Testament, Nehemiah, was written about that time. Later history of the Jews was recorded in other books, such as the books of the Maccabees, but they were not included in the Hebrew Bible. A Jewish historian of the first century A.D., Josephus, explains why thus: “Our history has been written since Artaxerxes [the Persian ruler who authorized Nehemiah’s visit to Jerusalem], very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact succession of prophets since that time” (Flavius Josephus Against Apion, I, 8).

Although disputes continued over the inclusion of a few books until the Jewish Council of Jamnia about 90 A.D., the number and order of the books in the Hebrew Bible was probably decided long before then. One of the Jewish histories not included in the Hebrew Bible records, “Even so did Judas [Judas Maccabeus] collect for us all the writings which had been scattered owing to the outbreak of war” (<i>II Maccabees, II, 14). The war referred to was the revolt of the Jews under the Maccabees in 166-164 B.C. against being forced to live like Greeks. After the war Judas had the books which had been scattered because of it collected and probably arranged and listed them the way that they now are.

According to the Talmud [the collection of Jewish civil and religious laws], the Hebrew Bible contains twenty-four books in three divisions: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. 24 books? But the Old Testament has 39 books. Actually, the contents are the same, but the Hebrew Bible combines several of the books that the Old Testament has as separate books, notably the 12 minor prophets. In our family reading I shared a chart showing how the books of the Hebrew Bible are arranged, which is given in a companion to Systematic Theology, Gregg R. Allison’s Historical Theology (Zondervan, 2011; the chart is on page 38).

These 24 (or 39) books are what Jesus told his disciples he came to fulfill. In the Sermon on the Mount he said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18). And after his resurrection on he joining two of them on their way to Emmaus, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).

The Word of God

In my family’s reading from and discussion of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994) in our after breakfast Bible reading time, we have now begun the first of its seven parts, “The Doctrine of the Word of God.” The first chapter in it (Chapter 2 of the book) is called “The Word of God.” It distinguishes various meanings that the phrase “the Word of God” has in the Bible.

Here are the meanings of “the Word of God” that we considered and the ESV of the Bible passages that we read in connection with them:

Jesus Christ

John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:14 – And 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.

Revelation 19:13 – He [the rider on a white horse] is clothed on a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.

Direct Speech by God

Genesis 1:3 – And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Genesis 2:16-17 – And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Exodus 20:1-3 – And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”

Matthew 3:17 – and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Speech by God through Prophets

Deuteronomy 18:18-20 – I will raise up for them a prophet like you [Moses] from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he will speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to pseak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.

The Gospel

Acts 13:5 – When they [Paul and Barnabas] arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues….

The Bible

Psalm 1:1-2 – Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

2 Timothy 3:16 – All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

We also considered these benefits identified by Grudem of having God’s words written out instead of depending on memory and oral repetition.
1. They are preserved more accurately for future generations.
2. They can be repeatedly inspected, permitting careful study and discussion.
3. They are accessible to many more people.

As well I shared with the rest of the family something that struck me in an article that Grudem recommends in the chapter’s bibliography, H. D. McDonald’s “Word, Word of God, Word of the Lord” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. McDonald ties the various meanings of “the word of God” together by suggesting that they lie within one another in three concentric circles: Jesus, the spoken message, and the written message.

We concluded out consideration of “the Word of God” by reading the hymn with which Grudem closes the chapter, “Break Thou the Bread of Life” by Mary A. Lathbury. Here it is from the Internet’s NetHymnal:

Break Thou the bread of life, dear Lord, to me,
As thou didst break the loaves beside the sea;
Beyond the sacred page I seek Thee, Lord;
My spirit pants for Thee, O living Word!

Bless Thou the truth, dear Lord, to me, to me,
As thou didst bless the bread by Galilee;
Then shall all bondage cease, all fetters fall;
And I shall find my peace, my all in all.

Thou art the bread of life, I Lord, to me,
Thy holy Word the truth that saveth me;
Give me to eat and live with Thee above;
Teach me to love Thy truth, for Thou art love.

O send Thy Spirit, Lord, now unto me,
That He may touch my eyes, and make me see:
Show me the truth concealed within Thy Word,
And in Thy Book revealed I see the Lord.

O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

In my family’s reading from and discussion of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994) in our after breakfast Bible reading time, we have now finished Chapter 1, “Introduction to Systematic Theology.” Grudem ends each chapter with questions for personal application, a list of special terms introduced in the chapter and defined in a glossary at the end of the book, a bibliography consisting mainly of works written from a conservative evangelical position, a Scripture memory passage, and a hymn. Originally I’d planned to share at the end of each chapter from our discussion of its questions, but not knowing how to do so for Chapter 1 without giving the questions I decided to share its hymn instead.

In introducing the hymn, Grudem observes that he wasn’t able to find any hymn related to the subject of the chapter, systematic theology, and so selected a hymn of general praise, Charles Wesley’s “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” He provides seven stanzas of it from a Presbyerian hymnal, Trinity Hymnal, noting that its words are in public domain and thus not subject to copyright restrictions. My being Pentecostal, I located the hymn in a Pentecostal hymnbook, Hymns of Glorious Praise. Finding that not only did it give only five of the seven stanzas but also that it contained slightly different wording in one line, I turned to the Internet’s NetHymnal.

NetHymnal observes that Wesley wrote “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” to commemorate the first anniversary of his conversion, this origin being reflected in the final stanza given below, and that the stanza that begins “O for a thousand tongues to sing” was stanza seven of Wesley’s original poem. NetHymnal gives twenty stanzas, the first nine of which are below.

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread thro’ all the earth abroad,
The honors of Thy name.

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
‘Tis life, and health, and peace.

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.

He speaks, and, listening to His voice,
New life the dead receive,
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.

Hear him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongue employ;
Ye blind, behold your Saviour come;
And leap, ye lame, for joy.

In Christ your Head, you then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heaven.

Glory to God, and praise and love
Be ever, ever given,
By saints below and saints above,
The church in earth and heaven.

On this glad day the glorious Sun
Of Righteousness arose;
On my behighted soul He shone
And filled it with repose.

How Should We Study Systematic Theology?

Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which my family and I are reading, suggests some guidelines to observe in studying systematic theology (or doing any Bible study). One of the guidelines lists steps to follow in studying a topic. Here I’ll state the other guidelines that it suggests and then list the steps.

Guidelines to Observe in Studying Theology

– We should pray that God will help us understand what we read from the Bible.

– We should share what we learn with humility and love towards others.

– We should use our reasoning abilities to draw conclusions from the Bible but must make sure that what we deduce from a passage doesn’t contradict what another passage teaches

– We should get help from other people and from books (including systematic theologies).

– We should study theology with praise. I’ll comment further on this below.

Steps to Follow in Studying a Topic

1. Find all the verses relevant to the topic by using a good concordance (looking up in it words important to the topic) and the relevant sections in systematic theology books.

2. Read, make notes on, and try to summarize the points made in the verses.

3. Summarize in one or more points what the verses say about the topic.

4. Read as a check the sections about the topic in systematic theology books.

Studying Theology with Praise

In our family reading of Grudem’s Systematic Theology, I usually read excerpts from his presentation and we discuss them. However, struck by his exposition on studying theology with praise, I had my wife read the whole section. It includes several Bible verses in which the Psalmist expresses his delight with the word of God, although not the one which as a boy I often quoted in Scripture showers, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105, KJV), and concludes with Paul’s expression of joy in Romans 11:33-36 over the doctrine on which he has just finished expounding:

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! Jow unsearchable are his judgments and how unscrutable his ways!
“For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (ESV)

Why Should We Study Systematic Theology?

In my first post I defined systematic theology as “the organized study of God and His relationship to humans and the world,” and in my second post I listed the major doctrines or areas of study that comprise systematic theology. Implied in those posts is that it is important for us to know what the Bible says about those doctrines.

The systematic theology that my family and I are reading, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, is more explicit. It argues that to fulfill the Great Commission we need to know systematic theology. Here is what Jesus commanded the eleven and thus us to do in that commission: “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV).

Grudem explains that for us to teach “all that I have commanded you” involves not only knowing what the Gospels record of Jesus’ oral teaching but also the Old Testament which Jesus assumed his listeners knew and what he would reveal to them later through the Holy Spirit and they would record in the rest of the New Testament.

Sure we could learn what the Bible teaches about a doctrine by reading through the Bible to see what it says about the doctrine instead of by studying systematic theology. But suppose I want to know what it says about spiritual gifts. If I were to start at Genesis 1:1, I’d have to read a long time before I’d find the answer in 1 Corinthians 12-14. It’d be much easier if I could refer to what a systematic theology says about them.

In his Systematic Theology Grudem suggests some additional benefits to us of studying systematic theology:
– It helps us to overcome the wrong ideas that we may have acquired through our reading of parts of the Bible or from others.
– It helps us to make better decisions on questions of doctrine that we may meet later.
– It helps us to grow as Christians.
– It helps us to distinguish between major doctrines, doctrines that we should seek agreement on, and minor doctrines, doctrines which we may differ on.

What Are Doctrines?

A doctrine is what Christians believe about a particular topic. The topic may be broad, being one of the major areas of study listed below, or narrow, being on an aspect of one of those areas, such as the canon of the Bible.

– The Doctrine of the Bible
– The Doctrine of God
– The Doctrine of Man
– The Doctrine of Christ
– The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
– The Doctrine of Salvation
– The Doctrine of the Church
– The Doctrine of the Last Things

Since my faith is in Jesus Christ rather than in the Bible, I’d prefer to begin the above list with “The Doctrine of Christ.” However the systematic theology that my family and I are reading, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, and the other major systematic theologies in my library begin with either “The Doctrine of the Bible” (Strong, Thiessen, Grudem) or “The Doctrine of God” (Aquinas, Calvin, Berkhof), and so I’ve begun the list with them. On the other hand, I’ve included in the list a doctrine not listed separately by any of the major systematic theologies, “The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit,” as is done in Pentecostal systematic theologies.

After providing a list of major areas of study similar to the above, Grudem identifies three criteria he used in selecting what narrow topics to include in his Systematic Theology: they are emphasized in the Bible, they have been significant throughout church history, or they are important for Christians today. Examples of doctrines important for Christians today although not significant earlier in church history are the Pentecostal doctrines of baptism in the Holy Spirit and of spiritual gifts. Thus I definitely plan to include them in our family reading of Systematic Theology.