Sunday, 29 January 2012


Daniel chapter 4 is about kingship.

The chapter is set in the form of a letter. A royal letter from Nebuchadnezzar to his people. The letter contains a report of a dream, the interpretation of the dream, the fulfilment of the dream (an unusual element) and a confession.

The Possibility of kingship - vv. 10-12+20-21
The great tree to which all peoples are gathered is the kingly reign of Nebuchadnezzar. Good government, good kingship is a gift from God. It is good for people to live in stable, secure, prosperous communities, and this requires good government. Rom 13:1 is relevant here.

The Problem of kingship - v. 30
Power corrupts. The best of government can be twisted by pride and self interest. As Nebuchadnezzar declares his own greatness he is stealing from God the glory which belongs to God alone. Grasping after divine attributes destroys true humanity, we are not lifted up but diminished, we become sub-human, more animal like than human like. Phil 2, the Lord Jesus did not grasp at the image of God. When government, or governmental systems deny and reject God and his authority over them they diminish and become less than they could be and should be.

The Perfecting of kingship - vv. 2-3, 34-37
Only in a robust confession of God as King can any human, or any kingly reign, be perfected. This is an essential element in faith in Jesus Christ and him crucified. God as King has the right to demand such a sacrifice, God as King has the right to be such a sacrifice. Our humanity is made perfect in Christ Jesus and his reign as King in the Kingdom of God.
An acknowledgement of God as King, the Kingdom as God's, leads to a humble submission to the will of God, we will do things his way.

Should we not pray for such Kings, governments, not only for our land but for every land?

Friday, 27 January 2012

Every Day

Matthew 25 follows on in theme from Mt 24. The Lord Jesus is coming again, how are we to live every day until he comes?

1-13 - Be Prepared
The contrast between the wise and the foolish is in the preparations they make. Neither know how long the bridegroom will be, the wise bring extra oil, just in case.
We don't know how long the Lord Jesus will be, so we are to live prepared, as though he might be a long time but will come suddenly and we need to be ready when he comes.

14-30 - Love God
The contrast between the two faithful servants and the one wicked servant is in their love for God. The two love God and so serve their Master without delay and making good use of the generous gifts he has given them. The wicked servant turns God's generosity into cause for blame because he doesn't love God.
How will you display your love for God? Will you receive his gifts? Will you use his gifts in his service? This is what we are to do every day until Jesus comes again.

31-46 - Love your neighbour
The sheep are commended for loving others in the same way as Jesus has loved. The goats are condemned because their is no evidence of love for others in their lives. To not love and care for all in need is to disobey the Lord Jesus and reject his love for you.
I think Carson's comments in his Matthew 13 to 28, in The Expositor's Bible Commentary are plain wrong. Which is surprising since Carson notes that the deeds of the sheep are not the cause of salvation, but the evidence of salvation. How then can you limit the deeds of salvation to those shown to Christian brothers? Carson appears too concerned in his comments to prevent any hint of salvation by works that he mistreats the parable and misses the point.
The second command is that we love our neighbour, whoever needs our care, our help, our love. This is what we are to do every day until Jesus comes again, love as he has loved us.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Heresy of Orthodoxy

Here is a review of this book, The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Andreas J Köstenberger and Michael J Kruger, which wasn't published, so here it is for you.

The Heresy of Orthodoxy

Andreas J Köstenberger and Michael J Kruger
Apollos, 2010
235 pages, 13 pages indices

Which came first … the diversity or the unity? the heresy or the orthodoxy? Is it possible that our contemporary commitment to diversity (plurality) is adversely affecting our understanding of early Christianity?

Köstenberger and Kruger, in a brief work, offer a serious historical review of the place of unity and orthodoxy in early Christianity. Responding to the influence of Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (1934, Eng trans. 1971), seen in the work of Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels among others, Köstenberger and Kruger provide a scholarly refutation of this thesis and of the uncritical adoption of a thesis by using it as an unquestioned paradigm.

Bauer, followed by Ehrman and Pagels, suggests that earliest Christianity was very diverse with no theological unity, no notion of canon of Scripture until these were imposed in the fourth Century by power hunger Roman bishops. By earliest Christianity Bauer means mid to late second century, thus ignoring the evidence of the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, which is convenient for his thesis.

By careful historical work Köstenberger and Kruger are able to demonstrate that there was considerable unity in theology, especially in Christology in the first century; that the use of the Old Testament by the first century church introduced the concept of canon and that in fact the fourth Century councils merely confirmed the canon that had already emerged and that the science of textual criticism gives us great confidence in the text of the New Testament as we have it in critical Greek editions and modern English versions. This book could have been much longer, thus adding weight to Köstenberger and Kruger’s conclusions, however the many footnotes (645 in total) in the volume illustrate the considerable scholarly consensus behind Köstenberger and Kruger’s conclusions.

The diversity, or growth of heretical opinions, in the second Century requires a unity of theology to diverge from. Orthodoxy is not an heretical idea forced upon the church, but an outworking of our unity in Christ. We are grateful to Köstenberger and Kruger for reminding us that there are limits, boundaries to Christian truth and faith, there are opinions which no matter how sincerely held are not Christian.

At least we can be grateful to Köstenberger and Kruger for demonstrating how a thesis, which even Walter Bauer described as ‘conjectural’ can over time become received wisdom without gaining any new historical support. Of great concern is the way that contemporary writers, such as Ehrman and Pagels, allow their commitment to a philosophical pluralism to drive their ‘scholarship’ into unsupported conclusions.

A scholarly debate about a bad thesis may not seem immediately relevant. However, in days when we need to recover our confidence in the gospel it is good for us to know that we can hold to orthodoxy Christianity without fear or shame; that orthodoxy Christianity is not one Christian option among many, but is in fact true. We do not need to concede that truth is a function of power and power is the only truth. Truth matters, truth exists as does error. With God’s help we can seek for truth, preach truth and live in that truth which he is.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

God Is Able

Daniel 3 is the first of two conflict stories in Daniel, the other is chapter 6. In both chapters faithful Jews find themselves facing the threat of death. However, in both the real conflict is not between Nebuchadnezzar and some defeated Jewish captives, but between Nebuchadnezzar and the God of Israel.

Daniel 1-6 is a series of court tales, narratives about life in the court of a pagan king. (see the commentary by Ernest C Lucas, Apollos, 2002 for a defense of this analysis.) We need to consider how we learn from stories.
Learning from stories involves the use of our sanctified imagination, an imagination guided by the Holy Spirit in the following ways:
1. we need to let the story grasp, impact us in the same way as it would have affected those who first heard/read the story;
2. we need to imaginatively set our life setting, our questions, our concerns alongside those of the story and find points of contact that the Holy Spirit inspired story might impact our life, and our story.

Nebuchadnezzar is able
In chapter 3 of Daniel Nebuchadnezzar displays all his ability: he can command the construction and worship of a huge image; v. 15 he can challenge the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego - is he able?; he can punish Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, although not very successfully. In the end of the story Nebuchadnezzar is able to acknowledge the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as being the God who is able.
How often do we allow our abilities, gifts from God, to be used by us to challenge God? All such challenging of God is futile, how can the creature challenge the Creator?

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are able
To confess their faith. They believe that God is able to save them and that he will save them, v. 17. But, even if he chooses not to, they will still believe in this God, still obey his first two commandments and not worship Nebuchadnezzar's image.
Not only do they confess this, they live by it, they believe it. This confession shapes their lives.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are able to live in humble submission. Not to a pagan king, but to a Heavenly King, a God who saves and intervenes.
By God's Spirit we too can be able to live in humble submission to our God and his gracious purposes.

God is able
This is the point of the chapter.
God is able to be present in the flames with his persecuted people. Nebuchadnezzar describes the fourth man as an angel of the Lord, the figure is God being present with his people.
God is able to save, not even the smell of smoke clung to their clothes.
This God is still the same God, he is still today powerfully able to do all that pleases him to be present with his people and to save his own.
Surely it makes a difference to us that we know and worship and depend upon such a God who is eternally able?

Tommy Smith - Emergence

Over the last week I've been listening to this 2011 cd by Tommy Smith and the Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Tommy Smith is one of, if not the, hardest working Jazz musicians in Scotland today. His encouragement of young Jazz musicians is a great encouragement to many and has resulted in many fine recordings.

Of special note on this disc I would mention the version of the Flintstones theme, which is filled with life and energy, surely the only appropriate way to cover such a ya-ba-da-ba-doo tune. The version of 'Take The A Train', the Billy Strayhorn/Duke Ellington standard is a highlight on the disc.

If you don't think you like Jazz try this disc and you will find you do. I would also encourage you, once you try this disc and discover Tommy's music look out for other discs such as Torah, and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra Rhapsody In Blue Live and too many other Tommy Smith recordings to mention here.
Get the disc, enjoy the groove, love the music.

In The Story

Matthew 24 is one of those chapters that has been very badly handled by literalist and dispensationalist interpretations over many years (curiously the same fate has befallen most of Daniel).

The Lord Jesus is in Jerusalem, he has been teaching in the Temple (ch. 22) and has warned the crowd/disciples, Pharisees and Jerusalem (ch. 23). Leaving the Temple, city, the disciples like google-eyed tourists are awestruck by the large stones of the Temple (v. 1). When the Lord Jesus prophetically (that is before it happened) speaks of the destruction of the Temple (v. 2) this leads to two questions which shape the rest of chapter 24 and 25: when will this happen (v. 3a) and what will the signs be of your returning (v. 3b)?
The disciples, and it is not explained how, correctly connect the destruction of the Temple and the coming again of the Lord Jesus.

Endings and Beginnings
It turns out that the destruction of the Temple is one of the signs of the return of the Lord Jesus in glory. The return of the Lord Jesus is at the end of this age. There is a human curiosity about the end: when will it be, what will it be like, will I be ok when it happens? The Lord Jesus responds to the question by not speaking about the end, but about the story up to the end.
We know the beginning of the story: God created all things, humanity rebels against God, God annoints Jesus as Christ and Lord and his death on the cross is the redemption and renewal of all things. We now know something of the end: the Lord Jesus will return and God's Kingdom will be fully established.
Today we do not live in either the beginning or the ending of the story - we live in the story. Matthew 24 and 25 are designed to instruct us in how to live in the story.

Live in the story
a) live with eyes wide open. Don't be deceived by liars claiming to be Christ, or by those who say the end is not coming. Recognise this present tribulation: wars, disasters, persecution as guarantees of the end.
b) live as people of hope. God is in control, the present state of the world is not the final word and is not out with the control of our God.
c) let God be God. v. 36. There are things God has not told us and will not tell us. Do not believe liars who tell you when the end will be, even the Lord Jesus does not know. Resist your inquisitive spirit, do not pry into the things God has not revealed, there is enough to be going on with if you focus upon what he has revealed.
d) because you know the end is coming, live in the light of that end.
e) Share the story of Jesus with everyone, they too need to know that the Lord Jesus is coming again.
f) vv. 45-51. Live doing the will of the Lord, serve him and serve others.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Dreams about kingdoms and a Kingdom

Daniel 2 introduces one of the exegetical challenges of the book of Daniel. At 2:4b the text changes from Hebrew to Aramaic and remains in Aramaic right through to the end of chapter 7. This crosses the major division in the book, 1-6//7-12. The textual history of Daniel is complicated and not fully understood.
It is possible that the Aramaic section works on a chiastic structure:
A                                                            B
ch2: dream                                              ch7: dream
      four earthly kingdoms and God's Kingdom
ch3: story - Jews faithful in face of death  ch6: story - Jew faithful in face of death
ch4: story - royal hubris humbled             ch5: story - royal hubris humbled

If this is an intentional chiasm I still don't know how it takes forward the textual history problem, unless at some time someone had an incomplete Hebrew text and added in the Aramaic section from an already existing Aramaic text. Go on, stop the unsubstantiated suppositions here!

Dreams are never condemned in the OT as a means of revelation. Revelation is one of the key themes of chapter 2, only Daniel's God can reveal mysteries.
vv. 1-13 - Nebuchadnezzar sets a test for his sages which they are unable to meet.
vv. 14-23 - Daniel intervenes to stop the punishment of the sages, he prays and God answer his prayer then Daniel blesses the God who is in control and answers prayer.
vv. 24-28a - Daniel's first 'but'. I can't tell you, no wise man can tell you, 'but' there is a God who can.
vv. 28b-35 - a second and third 'but'. The purpose of God revealing the dream is to instruct the king. There may be a series of human kingdoms 'but' God's eternal Kingdom is coming and cannot be stopped.
vv. 36-45 - Daniel explains the dream where the main point is the coming superiority of God's Kingdom over all other kingdoms
vv. 46-49 - Nebuchadnezzar blesses the God of Daniel. Not as a monotheist, God above all other gods. He recognises God's ability to reveal - cf. v. 22.

a) what is unknown to humans is known and revealed by God alone.
b) there is a God in heaven, which does not mean he is removed from us, but that he chooses to reveal himself and his purposes to us.
c) this God is establishing his Kingdom - cf. Isa 2:2, 6:3, 11:9 and other parallel references to stones and mountains for God's Kingdom.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

How shall we live?

Daniel chapter 1 is an introduction to the series of court tales in chapters 1 to 6. v. 1 and v. 21 set the historical background to these stories in the period between the first invasion of Judah, 605/604 BC, and the decree of Cyrus, 538 BC.
During this exilic period, Daniel must learn how to live as a faithful member of the people of God while serving in the court of a pagan king.

1. A king commands, vv. 3, 5, 7
Notice how Nebuchadnezzar commands and expects obedience. He displays his reign by conquering surrounding nations, including Judah. He orders the assimilation of captive peoples, he renames those taken. This is how kings behave.

2. A young man resolves, v. 8
We could call this verse Daniel's 'but', I think there are significant 'buts' in each of chapters 1 to 6.
Daniel rejects his new name, he refuses the king's food. Not idol food, but the gift of the king to buy allegiance from conquered people. Daniel will live and serve in the king's court, but he will not offer this pagan king total allegiance.
Daniel is learning the dilemma of Ps 137:1-4, how can we sing Yahweh's song in a strange land?

3. God gives, vv. 2, 9, 17
Neither the king nor the young man are in control.
The exile is God's deed, bringing long promised judgement upon a people who reject his word.
God blesses Daniel's 'but'.
God gives a blessing to Daniel's service in the pagan court.

There is only one King, for those with eyes of faith to see him.

The choice before Daniel was to:
1) submit to assimilation, become a good Babylonian giving total allegiance to the king.
2) withdraw into a ghetto or seek execution, either way disobey the Lord's word, see Jer 29.
3) confront the king and his culture with a desire to transform both the king and his culture.
Do Christians not face these same choices today?
How shall we live?

Friday, 6 January 2012

To whom Jesus speaks

Matthew 23

The Lord Jesus speaks to:
1. the crowds/disciples, vv. 1-12
2. the Pharisees, vv. 13-36
3. Jerusalem, vv. 37-39

We do not need to use this to source critically or form critically divide this united chapter. Our Lord Jesus is well able to speak to these groups, all of whom we find in our congregations, communities today.

1. To the crowds/disciples, vv. 1-12
There is a strong warning against the pride displayed by those who think they know how to live better than God's word teaches us. We need not only know God's word, teach God's word, but we must live God's word.
Humility is learned by reflecting upon our being sinners in need of a Saviour, by submitting ourselves to God's opinion of us - dead in our tresspasses and sins. Such humility should teach us the obedience of faith.

2. To the Pharisees, vv. 13-36
A perfection of condemnation, seven woes!
The central focus of this chiastic structure is vv. 23-24. The Pharisees are good at performing the externals of religion, the externals of God's commands while ignoring what God's commands aim at. It is better to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God than to measure out your tithe.
We must be genuine with God, serious about his word. It is not enough to know the word, it must change us deep inside.

3. To Jerusalem, vv. 37-39
God has been gracious and will be gracious again. Jesus is the Saviour, the Lord who is to be trusted in all he teaches of God and his Kingdom. Let Jesus be Jesus: Immanuel - God with us, Jesus - who will save his people from their sins.

That God speaks to us is grace.
What God speaks to us is grace. Even when it is a warning, it is aimed at our salvation and the blessing of the world.