Where the world comes to study the Bible

Wittenberg 2002

This essay is more a travelogue than history, and more history than theology. But there is some history and some theology just the same. Caveat lector!

Note:The many pictures below are thumbnails of the original. Please wait for the page to load. You can click the pictures for a larger picture.


On 1 July 2002, my sabbatical year began. As I write this, I am looking out a large window in my apartment in Münster, Germany, on the third floor (though in Germany they call it the second floor) of the Humboldt Haus on Hüfferstrasse. Humboldt Haus is a residence for visiting scholars.

This sabbatical has been dedicated to New Testament textual criticism, the science of determining the wording of the original documents. This discipline is needed because we no longer possess the originals of any New Testament book, and because there are hundreds of thousands of differences among the extant manuscripts (MSS). Only by a careful sifting of the data, and a rigorous comparison of MSS, can one increase in certainty as to what the original text said. And, of course, for evangelical Christians, textual criticism is of extreme importance because we are, above all, a people of the Book. But we cannot know what it means or how to apply it unless we first know what it says.

My sabbatical year has already been quite thrilling. I have spent several weeks in Greece, including a week on the island of Patmos, where John wrote the book of Revelation. The Monastery of St. John the Theologian sits atop the island, looking quite imposing from any direction. This monastery-fortress is a millennium old, with walls fifty feet high in places! And the library of this ancient monastery is absolutely stunning. I spent some time in the library examining some of the Greek New Testament MSS there. Perhaps I will tell more of my experience on Patmos at a later date.

After Greece, I took a two-week breather back home, only to head out for Egypt at the end of August. The journey was a nine-day trip to Mt. Sinai, to St. Catherine’s Monastery. I had been planning this trip for three years, negotiating with the monastery by corresponding in modern Greek. Father Nicholas Katinas of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Dallas joined me, as did Dr. Timothy Ralston of Dallas Seminary. We spent a week looking at some of the “New Finds” manuscripts. These are manuscripts that were discovered in 1975 when a fire broke out at St. George’s Tower, revealing a hidden compartment. In the compartment were 1200 manuscripts and 50,000 fragments (all undamaged by the fire). Among the 1200 manuscripts are over 200 biblical manuscripts. Most exciting among the discoveries were leaves of Codex Sinaiticus, the fourth-century MS that Tischendorf carried off to Russia in 1844 and 1859. Sinaiticus contains the oldest complete Greek New Testament in existence—by 500 years! It now resides in the British Library in London. That’s another story. There are also over a dozen uncial MSS of the New Testament (uncial MSS are capital-letter MSS on parchment; all of them are dated no later than the tenth century and as early as the third century, making them quite valuable for determining the wording of the original). We were so privileged to spend a week in the library handling and examining these ancient treasures! But that report will have to wait for a later time as well.

I took one week off after Egypt, packed my bags and headed out for Münster, Germany. My wife, Pati, joined me for this trip (as she had for Greece). Why Münster? On the western edge of the old city is the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung, or the Institute for New Testament Textual Research. Founded in 1959 by Dr. Kurt Aland, this not-terribly-large four-story building houses microfilms and photographs of virtually all Greek New Testament manuscripts known to exist. A few decades ago, Dr. Eldon Epp noted that there are probably more textual critics at this institute than there are in the rest of the world. That situation has changed to some degree, but Münster is still the epicenter for New Testament textual studies. I am here working, in part, on exhaustive collations of MSS of Paul’s letters. Every variant is noted for each MS that is examined. By doing this kind of work, one can determine, to some degree, what a particular scribe’s tendencies were. For example, if one MS tends to have “Christ” where other MSS have “Lord,” its voice is discounted in places where other MSS join it in reading “Christ.” But if that same MS has “Lord” in disputed places, its voice is weighed more heavily. This kind of painstaking work has hardly been done on New Testament MSS, in large measure because there are very few who are both skilled in the task and have access to the photographs. On top of that, it is quite tedious work (especially because the microfilms are not easy to read, being cheap-grade photographs).

We’ve been here now for seven weeks. Pati and I are thoroughly enjoying our time in Germany. But we wanted to take a break and we decided to go to Wittenberg last week. We were there for four days, along with my assistant, Presian Smyers, who is helping me in the collation work on Paul’s letters.

The Autobahn

We rented a car since our only transportation to date has been two tired legs (per person) and one used bicycle each. We got out on the famous German Autobahn on the morning of 29 October, taking the A2 east to Berlin. It was my first time to drive in Germany; I wasn’t sure what to expect. Altogether we drove almost 1000 miles (nearly 1600 kilometers) in the six days that we had the car. I asked Pati to rate driving in America, Greece, and Germany in terms of how pleasant the experience was. Germany ranked by far the highest; Greece came in a rather distant third. The people in Germany are polite, respectful, and more patient than Americans. But, boy, do they drive fast! As is well known, the Autobahn has long sections of no speed limit. (But in many places the speed is limited to 120 kilometers or less.) We found ourselves going 160 to 180 kilometers for a good bit of the trip. It sure was fun! And we did not experience road rage except once (from someone who was obviously not German).


Our first stop was Berlin. We spent two days and one night there, hardly enough to take in much. The museums in Berlin are world-class, and the cafs are wunderbar. Unfortunately, many Americans have an image of Berlin that belongs to an era long gone.

Presian and I went to the Staatsmuseen (national museum) to look at MSS, while Pati went shopping. We had the opportunity to examine two ancient uncial MSS, but no more since the MSS had been temporarily moved. After the MS discovery tour, we went to Checkpoint Charlie, the place where East Berlin met West Berlin. It was an eerie feeling. The Berlin Wall had been constructed in August 1961; it kept East Berliners from getting into the west. Some people, however, had to cross the lines in either direction. Checkpoint Charlie was the principal place where this occurred. Of course, we are all familiar with the many stories of tragedy and triumph, of the hundreds of people who did escape from East Berlin and made it to freedom (or who died trying). Many of these folks got out through Checkpoint Charlie by stealth, hiding in ingenious compartments. One of the most successful stories was of a Volkswagen Beetle that had the compartment below its trunk hollowed out so that people could hide there. Several folks escaped from the tyranny of Communism in this manner. The VW “bug,” along with hundreds of other artifacts from the Cold War, was on display at the museum next to Checkpoint Charlie (known as “Der Haus am Checkpoint Charlie”). I marvel at what lengths people will go, what incredible risks they will take, for the sake of freedom.

Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin

On 10 November 1989, East Berlin was officially open. Shortly after that, the wall was torn down. East Berliners (and East Germans) were free at last! The date is significant, though not intentional: November 10 is Martin Luther’s birthday. East Germany was freed 506 years to the day after Martin Luther was born.


Reformation Eve

We left Berlin on the evening of 30 October, driving the 100 or so kilometers south to Wittenberg. We had reserved a hotel room at the L & K Pension, about two kilometers from the town square. We made our reservations through the city’s website (, just a couple of weeks earlier. I was surprised at how easy it was to reserve a room there, especially since we were going to be staying through the end of the month (and, therefore, over Reformation Day). I thought, in light of the fact that we could get two rooms in the same very small hotel (one for Pati and me, and one for Presian), that perhaps the celebrations would be minimal, that few visitors would come to town on this historic day. I am so glad that I was wrong! Wittenberg had thousands of visitors on Reformation Day, and the town was ready for it. I found out that only the private hotels off the beaten path (known as pensions) were not full. We had chosen a pension because of price, not realizing that this would be the only way we could get a room in Wittenberg. The L & K was very pleasant, with a surprisingly large room for two. It is a new building a block from the new Stadthalle (city hall). With real parking places and a decent breakfast, the $45 a night for two was a great bargain. I recommend this pension to you. But be warned: they only take cash. And if you arrive after 8 p.m. (like we did), no one will be there to greet you. The room key will be tucked away in some hidden place (they will tell you about this one or two days before your arrival; make sure to access email before you arrive). Finally, like so much of what used to be East Germany, they don’t speak English at the L & K. Come with a dictionary and some patience. And perhaps pick up a few German phrases before you go.

After we deposited our bags in the room, we drove down to the main drag. Quite a bit of Wittenberg is still intact as it was in medieval times. But there are newer buildings next to older ones, and buildings in ruins from neglect. World War II was not the cause: only two bombs dropped on the whole city. It looked to be more recent than that. Indeed, during the Cold War, Wittenberg was under Communist rule. This city, whose name means “white mountain” (so named for the sand found in the region, perhaps from the Elbe River which Wittenberg touches), ironically has factories on the edge of town with smokestacks, billowing with white smoke day and night. This ugly sight has become the new ‘white mountain’ of Wittenberg. But the industry of the Communist era is being replaced, once again, by tourism. Yet even eleven years after the east collapsed, there are still only 120,000 visitors annually to the epicenter of the Protestant Reformation. (And half of them, it seemed, showed up on Reformation Day!)

In the two streets that constitute the downtown area proper almost everything is well preserved. After we parked the car, we went to one of the newer restaurants in town, the Schlossfreiheit, built in 1683, 200 years after Luther’s birth. In this cozy little restaurant, we enjoyed a fabulous meal at a very reasonable price. On the menu was “Luther Bier,” a dark beer that was allegedly similar to the kind that Luther enjoyed. The more I learn about this great saint, the more I like! I picked up a postcard that had a saying of Luther’s (although I don’t know the source; perhaps Table Talk?): “Wer viel Bier trinkt, schlft gut. Wer gut schlft, sündigt nicht. Und wer nicht sündigt, kommt in den Himmel!” (The one who drinks much beer sleeps well. He who sleeps does not sin. And he who does not sin goes to heaven!”) One of the things about Luther that I love so much is that he was not pretentious; he was down to earth. He belonged to that rare breed known as ‘guy-next-door Reformer.’

Even after 10 p.m. there was quite a bit of activity near the Schlosskirche (Castle Church), the church on whose main door Luther put up his 95 theses. The door was open, but a guard in medieval dress was posted. And, curiously, the people milling around the church were teenagers. Hundreds of them. We found out later that annually scores of youth come to Wittenberg as confirmands in the Lutheran church. This year over 700 youth were there. They were allowed inside to spend the night in this historic church. We were excited about what the next day would reveal.

Reformation Day

We woke the next morning, 31 October, in anticipation of seeing some of Christianity’s most important sites. After a solid German breakfast, we headed out for the town square. As we drove, I began to reflect on the historic occasion. Five hundred years ago, the University of Wittenberg was founded. Within ten years, a bright young monk named Martin Luther joined its faculty. His doctorate was conferred in the Schlosskirche in October 1512. And 485 years ago on this day (31 October 1517) Luther marched two kilometers down the street from the monastery where he lived to the Schlosskirche and nailed his 95 Theses to the large double wooden door. (It was the custom of the day to post announcements on the church door.) He titled the flyer “Disputation of Dr. Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” In this post, he asked for a public debate: “Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Therefore, he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.”

That debate never came. Shortly after Luther posted his theses, someone tore down the sheet, and copies of it soon got to printers throughout Europe. Within weeks, over 100,000 copies of Luther’s manifesto had been printed. The Reformation was born!

To be sure, certain parts of the famous 95 Theses were worded quite strongly. But other parts were in praise of the pope and his policies, and appeared to be no more than a plea from a Catholic monk for a little sanity and sanctification in the matter of indulgences. Altogether, the 95 Theses do not yet show the clear reasoning about justification by faith alone that Luther would be known for. But they opened Pandora’s Box, and were a public display of incredible bravado in the face of a politico-religious authority that ruled all of life. It was Luther’s heart and head that started the Reformation. One without the other would not have done the job.

We parked the car and walked to the town square. As we turned the corner and saw the square we were immediately transported back half a millennium. The sights, smells, and sounds were all medieval. The city has done a lovely job of preserving this heritage, and the town square is the right place to have it, since that is a well-preserved medieval site as well.

Town Square with Pati and Presian in foreground, kiddie ferris wheel in background

Woman constructing brick oven for day’s festivities

Medieval Wittenberg on TV!

Making our way through the crowds, we got down to the Schlosskirche. This church was built in 1490. It was thus virtually new in Luther’s day. The large double-wooden door where Luther nailed his 95 Theses, the most famous door in Europe (known as the Thesentür), has long since disappeared. It was replaced in 1858 by a double brass door with Luther’s theses written on it. Using my sanctified imagination, I thought about the events that transpired 485 years ago this day. Luther most likely came from the monastery or the university (next door to the monastery), made his way down the long Collegienstrasse (almost two kilometers from the monastery to the Schlosskirche), with hammer and theses in hand. He was fed up with the practice of indulgences that, in essence, excused only the wealthy from purgatory and turned paupers into everyone whose hopes for the afterlife made their existence on earth miserable.

In a little antique bookstore on Collegienstrasse, I saw a painting that captured well the feeling of that day. (Unfortunately, the painting was not for sale.) It was of a young monk walking away from the door of the Wittenberg church, with hammer in hand, looking determined, ready for a battle. A number of townsfolk were standing around, pointing and gawking at what he had just posted. There was obviously an air of excitement. Off to the corner was another monk, but with a rather dour look on his face: trouble was brewing, and Luther was the brewmeister! This monk was obviously opposed to Luther and he knew well what the implications of Luther’s act meant. Of course, this painting is a bit romanticized: the theses were in Latin and most of the townsfolk probably did not understand their meaning. Within weeks, however, the 95 theses had been translated into German.

Schlosskirche Door, with mural above showing Luther and Melanchthon worshiping at the foot of the cross

Here I am in front of the Thesentür, with much the same expression that Luther probably had when he posted it.

The tower of the church overlooks all of Wittenberg, rising to 88 meters high at the top of the spire. On Saturday, 2 November, I took the 287 or so steps up to the top where I could see the sites. I was quite surprised at the beauty and majesty of this famous church. I expected it to be a little parish church, but it was truly magnificent. Wrapping around the tower today are the first few words, in German of course, of Luther’s most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress.” It may well be that the tower was the inspiration for Luther’s hymn, although its present form was not completed until the late 1800s.

The altar in the Schlosskirche

View of town from tower

This is a view of the town of Wittenberg from the tower of the Schlosskirche. Both main roads lead to the Schlosskirche; its tower can be seen plainly anywhere along these roads. The twin-towered church in the background is the Stadtkirche where Luther regularly preached; in front of it is the town center. The last building on the right whose outline is visible [just beyond the orange-tiled roof of the university] is Lutherhalle, the Augustinian monastery where Luther made his home.

After the visit to the Schlosskirche, we traveled up Collegienstrasse to the opposite end, to Luther’s home. If you are expecting a small, quaint one-story medieval brick home, you are in for a surprise! Luther lived in the Augustinian monastery, a rather large complex right next to the university. Within seven years of the beginning of the Reformation, the monastery was dissolved. Eight years later, in 1532, the building was granted to Luther by the elector of Saxony. Lutherhalle became his home for the rest of his days. He and his wife, the former nun, Katharina von Bora (sixteen years his junior), made a home here starting in 1525. They had six children, four of whom reached adulthood. But Luther and Kthe (or “Katie,” as he affectionately called her) did not occupy the entire Lutherhalle. They lived in a small portion of the former monastery, leased out several rooms to students, and allowed some rooms, including the large auditorium, to be used as classrooms.

Lutherhalle boasts the largest collection of Reformation art and artifacts in the world. Unfortunately, when we were there, the building was undergoing renovation and a little archeological spadework. Virtually all of the artifacts had been removed. The outside of the building was completely covered with tarps. But Luther’s Stube or heated room (with a large oven) where he studied and ate with his students (and where the conversations in his famous Table Talk took place) was still furnished to some degree. (It was unfortunately so crowded that I could not get very good pictures of it; but below is one of the oven.) The building was open only for a couple hours on Reformation Day; we made sure to visit it.

Katie on the go! (Statue of Katie von Bora in the courtyard of Lutherhalle.) I have a wife like that, too

The auditorium in Lutherhalle where lectures to as many as 400 students were delivered.

The oven in the Stube where Luther ate with his students, studied, and presumably had his ‘tower experience’.

Just a few doors down the street is Melanchthon’s home. Philipp Melanchthon was Luther’s right-hand man, coming to the university in 1521. Born Philipp Schwarzerdt (“dark earth”), his name was changed by his great-uncle, the famous classical scholar Johannes Reuchlin, to its Greek equivalent, Μελάνχθων. Melanchthon had earned his bachelor’s degree by age 14 (1511) at the University of Heidelberg, his master’s degree at Tübingen before the age of 17 (1514). He was extremely intelligent, and especially gifted in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. At first, his career was in ancient Greek, but after he met Luther he became interested in theology. The mind of Melanchthon and the heart of Luther were a powerful combination! In a large measure, Melanchthon was the brains behind the initial stages of the Reformation. He penned the great Augsburg Confession of 1530, the first official Protestant articles of faith. The statement on justification is worthy of mention: “They [the church] also teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by his death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight. Rom. 3 and 4.”

Melanchthon was a popular professor. He sometimes filled his lecture hall with 200 students to teach them Greek! Melanchthon also wrote the first ‘modern’ Greek grammar (as well as a Latin grammar), an introductory text to enable students to grasp the language. His battle cry, ad fontes (“back to the sources!”), became the battle cry of the Reformation. His desire was to strip away fifteen centuries of tradition and get back to what the New Testament teachings were all about. To do this, he had to get behind the Latin Vulgate, behind the church fathers, behind the papacy and ecclesiastical layers, to the Greek New Testament itself. The Greek New Testament is indeed the source of truth. Melanchthon was on the right track.

Melanchthon’s home was built for him in 1539 by Johann Friedrich, the Elector of Saxony, after Melanchthon had received offers from several other universities in Europe. As the “teacher of Germany,” Melanchthon was a national treasure. Wittenberg had to do all it could to keep him at their university. It is a four-story, narrow building on Collegienstrasse, significantly larger than the tiny home he and his family had been used to up till 1539.

Melanchthon’s house from the herb garden

Melanchthon’s Stube—a study, dining room, and living room

Melanchthon lived, studied, ate, fellowshipped with friends and students, and died in this Stube

After a delicious dinner at the Schwarz Br Kartoffelhaus (“Black Bear Potato House”) on the main drag, we retired for the evening. This restaurant dates back to the time of Luther; they claim that it was one of Luther’s favorites.

We were exhausted from scurrying back and forth all day, taking in sites, pondering the significance of a lone brave act by an Augustinian monk so many years ago. That act set the world on fire! It was a gutsy move to challenge the corruption of the church, and it began to unravel the western world’s view of authority that it had held for many centuries, one based on tradition. Luther argued that revelation was a higher authority than tradition. People jumped on the Lutheran bandwagon for their own reasons, not all of them noble and pure. Many joined Luther because it gave them a political or financial advantage; some joined him because they embraced the truth of his convictions as their own. Who then could have imagined that Protestantism would become the third great branch of Christianity (after Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy), and would in fact outgrow the other two put together?

A Day Trip to Dresden

To a large degree, the discipline of textual criticism is an application of Melanchthon’s motto, ad fontes. For in this discipline, we are trying to recover the original text of the New Testament by examining the most ancient documents we can find. I thought about Melanchthon and his passion for truth when I took a side trip to Dresden on Friday, 1 November. I visited the university library to examine the famous Codex Boernerianus, the ninth-century Greek-Latin diglot of Paul’s letters (Gregory-Aland 012, a.k.a. Codex Gp. This is now housed in the brand new (finished in October 2002) university library (Staats Universittsbibliothek). The manuscript librarian, Dr. Thomas Haffner, was extremely helpful. What a joy it was to look at this ancient MS! I had seen the “pseudofacsimile” before, a reproduction of the text done in 1909, but never the real thing. Inside the cover of the book was a sign-up sheet covering a period of 96 years (1901—1996). During that time only 21 people had examined the MS (all but one with German names). The longest gap was from 1970 to 1992, followed by one from 1936 to 1948, mute testimonies to the ravages of malevolent political regimes.

There are several pages on this MS that are virtually unreadable, and a few where the scribe had scraped clean his parchment, leaving nothing in its place. To date, those blank places have not been able to be read. But there is a new technology that can recover the text that used to be there. Known as multi-spectral technology (MSI), it has been used successfully by Dr. Greg Bearman (a professor at CalTech) on the Genesis Apocryphon to decipher 200 words that were completely unrecoverable by any other means. Dr. David Armstrong, a classics professor at the University of Texas has also used it to read some of the charred remains of the Herculaneum papyri. This technology is opening doors that have been long closed. There are over 100 Greek New Testament MSS that have been scraped and reused for different purposes. Known as palimpsests, these MSS have an undertext that is often undecipherable. But with MSI, that undertext will be able to be read. How exciting it is to live at a time when new discoveries will be made because of new technology! (It is almost incredible to think about: we know that discoveries will be made, we know how to make them, and we even have the MSS. All that is required is permission from the libraries and monasteries that possess these ancient treasures.) A few years ago, a famous textual critic declared that no new discoveries were left to be made in this field. However, not only are there hundreds of yet-to-be discovered MSS, hiding in the recesses of ancient monasteries, but there are also a good number of known MSS whose texts have not been completely legible... until now. Not only palimpsests, but also papyri, water-damaged MSS, and many other hard-to-read MSS can benefit from MSI. If you’ve read this far, your interest in the scriptures is no trivial thing. I ask you to consider praying for libraries and monasteries to open their doors to qualified individuals who can take MSI photographs, finally giving the world the words of these precious texts that have been hidden from us for so long! The promise of this new technology is one of the reasons I founded the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts this year (CSNTM). It became incorporated on 13 September 2002. If you’d like to find out more about the Center, simply visit the website,, or write to me directly.

Besides Codex G, I also wanted to examine some of Dresden’s other Greek New Testament MSS. I was grieved to learn that four of the university’s Greek New Testament MSS had been destroyed in World War II. Seventy-five percent of this beautiful city was destroyed in that great and terrible war. And even the priceless libraries did not escape unscathed. There was something of an unwritten agreement between the Allies and Axis powers not to bomb universities, to preserve knowledge and learning and beauty. For whatever reasons, this unwritten agreement was not always followed. I can’t tell you how heartsick I am to learn of the destruction of these precious scriptures, irreplaceable treasures that they are! And even though the tragedy occurred before I was born, the news hit me as though it happened yesterday. I believe that one of the highest priorities of these libraries and monasteries should be to make high-resolution photographic copies of these treasures (or allow someone else to make them), and preserve them off-site. Only in this way can the pain of loss be somewhat lessened. When the great library of Alexandria burned up many centuries ago, mankind lost much of its knowledge of the ancient world. The real tragedy is that this same kind of thing happens today (on a smaller scale, of course), even though it can be avoided. (A few years ago I was studying at a world-class university on my last sabbatical. I asked for photographs of the university’s Greek New Testament MSS. To my amazement, two thirds of the MSS had never been officially photographed! If libraries and monasteries will take the simple step of getting their documents photographed, and then placing the photographs off-site, repeats of the Alexandria fire and the ravages of war can be partially avoided.)

After a good day in Dresden, we headed ‘home’ to Wittenberg, about 150 kilometers away. We would spend yet another day in the city that Luther built (known today, appropriately, as Lutherstadt) before returning to Muenster.

Back to Wittenberg

Saturday, 2 November, would be our last day in Wittenberg. We visited the Schlosskirche once again, and took more time to see things that we had to rush through two days earlier. Inside the Schlosskirche are two grave markers just below the podium. One is Luther’s and the other is Melanchthon’s. The place where Luther staged a battle for the whole world to see ironically became his final resting place.

Nearly half way down the Collegienstrasse from the Schlosskirche is the town square. Erected in this square are two statues, one of Luther and one of Melanchthon. And towering above the square is the Stadtkirche (town church), St. Mary’s, where Luther frequently preached. This became the first Protestant church. It was the first church since anyone could remember in which the laity as well as clergy fully participated in the Lord’s Table, partaking of both the bread and the wine.

Luther’s statue in the town square

Melanchthon’s statue in the town square

The Stadtkirche in the background and the town square in the foreground, on Reformation Day, 2002

Final Thoughts

All in all, the trip to Wittenberg was an incredible experience. I’ve had a good amount of time to reflect on the significance of a single act that started the Protestant Reformation. Today’s world is quite different from Luther’s in many ways, and yet there remain the epistemological and practical questions regarding authority and truth. Nearly 500 years after Luther took his stand, Protestants and Catholics are beginning to wrestle with reconciliation. Gestures have been made on both sides. Language is toned down, and there is an increasing recognition that each branch of Christendom (including Orthodoxy) has a contribution to make—and even that no single branch has a corner on the whole truth. On the one hand, evangelical Christians have to ask themselves what ‘faith alone’—that great clarion call of the Reformation—really means. Is the doctrine of justification by faith alone a necessary doctrine for salvation, so that all those who do not embrace it explicitly are damned to hell? Or is it an important clarification of the gospel which is nevertheless not the core of the gospel? Our attitude toward one another within Christendom depends on how we answer this question. One of the interesting facets of this question has to do with the methodological battle cry of the Reformation, ad fontes. Indeed, when we go back to the scriptures, it does indeed seem clear that Paul has a doctrine of justification by faith alone. But that doctrine is not as easy to find in James, Peter, or Jude. Yet Paul seemed to accept these other apostles, along with their theological commitments, as genuine and true. But if they did not see things quite the same way as Paul did, who are we to insist on beliefs and formulations that just might exclude even some of the apostles?1

In truth, Luther was a Paulinist. He held to a canon within the canon. Paul’s letters, especially Romans and Galatians, were the crown jewel of Luther’s theology. Is that altogether a bad approach? Is it possible to hold to a canon within the canon and yet to embrace a high view of scripture? And should Paul be considered the capstone of theological articulation? These are important questions that we must wrestle with. Further, by replacing tradition with revelation as the ultimate authority, Luther opened a Pandora’s Box whose implications he could hardly have anticipated. If revelation is the ultimate authority, then how should we interpret it? If we are to use reason—as Luther even hinted at at the Diet of Worms in 1521—then does this not make reason a higher authority than revelation? And if reason has this kind of power, what does this say about total depravity and the noetic effects of sin? How can a Christian reconcile the use of reason to grasp the meaning of scripture with a mind that has been tainted by sin? Although the Catholicism of Luther’s day was terribly corrupt, the value it placed on tradition was not altogether a bad thing. Protestantism gave rise to liberalism when reason usurped the throne of revelation. During this time, Catholicism remained far more conservative. And today, evangelicals and Catholics generally have much more in common than either of them has with liberal Christianity. In the least, this complex tapestry of western Christianity is not yet finished. The Weaver has more to do. And we all must humbly bow before him as he does his work in our lives both individually and corporately.

1 For my own take on the difference between Paul and the other New Testament writers, see my essay, “Is Intra-Canonical Theological Development Consistent with a High Bibliology?” This was originally an Evangelical Theological Society paper, delivered in March 2002 at the southwestern regional meeting held in Dallas.

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)

The Text and Grammar of John 1.18

February 25, 2004

In Bart Ehrman’s provocative book, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford, 1993), the author devotes five pages to a treatment of John 1.18 (78-82). Inter alia, he says this:

The more common expedient for those who opt for [oJ] monogenhV" qeov", but who recognize that its rendering as “the unique God” is virtually impossible in a Johannine context, is to understand the adjective substantivally, and to construe the entire second half of John 1:18 as a series of appositions, so that rather than reading “the unique God who is in the bosom of the Father,” the text should be rendered “the unique one, who is also God, who is in the bosom of the Father.” There is something attractive about the proposal. It explains what the text might have meant to a Johannine reader and thereby allows for the text of the generally superior textual witnesses. Nonetheless, the solution is entirely implausible.

…. It is true that monogenhv" can elsewhere be used as a substantive (= the unique one, as in v. 14); all adjectives can. But the proponents of this view have failed to consider that it is never used in this way when it is immediately followed by a noun that agrees with it in gender, number, and case. Indeed one must here press the syntactical point: when is an adjective ever used substantivally when it immediately precedes a noun of the same inflection? No Greek reader would construe such a construction as a string of substantives, and no Greek writer would create such an inconcinnity. To the best of my knowledge, no one has cited anything analogous outside of this passage.

The result is that taking the term monogenhV" qeov" as two substantives standing in apposition makes for a nearly impossible syntax, whereas construing their relationship as adjective-noun creates an impossible sense.1

Ehrman thus suggests that it is nearly impossible and completely unattested for an adjective followed immediately by a noun that agrees in gender, number, and case, to be a substantival adjective. His argument assumes that monogenhv" cannot normally be substantival, even though it is so used in v 14—as he admits. There are many critiques that could be made of his argument, but chief among them is this: his absolutizing of the grammatical situation is incorrect. His challenge (“no one has cited anything analogous outside of this passage”) is here taken up. There are, indeed, examples in which an adjective that is juxtaposed to a noun of the same grammatical concord is not functioning adjectivally but substantivally.2

The following are texts that show Ehrman’s view to be incorrect. I have only looked at a few NT books (John, the corpus Paulinum, James, 1-2 Peter, Jude). The texts are of two kinds: first, those in which a similar semantic situation as Ehrman sees in John 1.18 occurs, though it is not exactly the same (these will be explained below); and second, those in which exactly what Ehrman calls for occurs but the adjective is not modifying the noun. (Asterisked items are the clearest examples that invalidate Ehrman’s absolute rule.)

Category 1: Similar Structural Parallel

Rom 10:19: prw'to" Mwu>sh'" levgei (“at first, Moses says”): Although the adjective is not substantival, it is adverbial, and thus fits into the ‘impossible’ category that Ehrman says does not exist. The proper form would have been prw'ton (since accusative neuter adjectives can regularly function adverbially).

1 Cor 5:10: toi'" pleonevktai" kaiV a{rpaxin h] eijdwlolavtrai" (“with coveters and swindlers or idolaters”): Again, not exactly a parallel, but a noun followed by a substantival adjective followed by a noun (though all are joined by conjunctions) comes awfully close.

1 Cor 6:9: ou[te moicoiV ou[te malakoi; ou[te ajrsenokoi'tai (“neither adulterers nor effeminate nor homosexuals”): Same construction virtually as 1 Cor 5:10.

1 Cor 9:6: h] movno" ejgwV (“or [do] only I [and Barnabbas]...): here the adjective is functioning adverbially, similar to Rom 10:19.

1 Cor 12:29: mh; pavnte" ajpovstoloi… mhV pavnte" profh'tai… mhV pavnte" didavskaloi… mhV pavnte" dunavmei"… (“All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not [workers of] miracles, are they?”): The pronominal adjective pavnte" is functioning substantivally (though this is common for pronominal adjectives) and the noun following is functioning as a predicate nominative. These are good parallels, but are not as helpful as pure adjectives would be. However, the final word, dunavmei", though a noun that can mean ‘ruler,’ is here used in the sense of ‘miracle [-worker].’ This last clause may be unusual grammar, but it seems to be irrelevant to the situation at hand.

1 Cor 14:24: ti" a[pisto" h] ijdiwvth" (“a certain unbeliever or ungifted person”): this one with a conjunction between the two.

2 Cor 3:3: ouj mevlani ajllaV pneuvmati (“not with black [ink] but with the Spirit”): this one with a conjunction between the two (but cf. 2 Cor 9:7 et alii where a conjunction [postpositive gavr] separates the adjective from the noun).

Eph 5:5: pa'" povrno" h] ajkavqarto" h] pleonevkth": see 1 Cor 5.10.

*Col 1:2: toi'" ejn Kolossai'" aJgivoi" kaiV pistoi'" ajdelfoi'" (“to the saints and faithful brothers”) comes as close as any text to meeting the requirements that Ehrman says are impossible. The parallel is not exact, but an adjective in the construction ARTICLE + ADJECTIVE + kaiv + ADJECTIVE + NOUN. See discussion of this text in my dissertation.

1 Tim 1:13: blavsfhmon kaiV diwvkthn (with ‘and’ between) (but 1 Tim 2:5 illustrates that both gavr and kaiv can intervene between a modifying adjective and its noun [ei|" gaVr qeov", ei|" kai; mesivth" qeou' kai; ajnqrwvpwn])

**Heb 9:24: ouj gaVr eij" ceiropoivhta eijsh'lqen a{gia Cristov", ajntivtupa tw'n ajlhqinw'n (“For Christ did not enter a holy place, a copy of the true...”) Although “Christ” separates the adjective from the noun, this fits well the semantics that Ehrman says are impossible. The reason it does is precisely because a{gia is seen as substantival in the context. Does not John 1:14 do that for John 1:18?

Category 2: Identical Structural Parallel

John 6:70:kaiV ejx uJmw'n ei|" diavbolov" ejstin. Here diavbolo" is functioning as a noun, even though it is an adjective. And ei|", the pronominal adjective, is the subject related to diavbolo", the predicate nominative.

*Rom 1.30: katalavlou" qeostugei'" uJbristaV" uJperhfavnou" ajlazovna", ejfeuretaV" kakw'n, goneu'sin ajpeiqei'" (“slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents”—true adjectives in italics)

**Gal 3:9: tw/' pistw/' jAbraavm (“with Abraham, the believer” as the NASB has it; NRSV has “Abraham who believed”; NIV has “Abraham, the man of faith”). Regardless of how it is translated, here is an adjective wedged between an article and a noun that is functioning substantivally, in apposition to the noun.

*Eph 2:20: o[nto" ajkrogwniaivou aujtou' Cristou' jIhsou' (“Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone”): although ajkrogwniaivo" is an adjective, it seems to be functioning substantivally here (though it could possibly be a predicate adjective, I suppose, as a predicate genitive). LSJ lists this as an adjective; LN lists it as a noun. It may thus be similar to monogenhv" in its development.

*1 Tim 1:9: dikaivw/ novmo" ouj kei'tai, ajnovmoi" deV kaiV ajnupotavktoi", ajsebevsi kaiV aJmartwloi'", ajnosivoi" kaiV bebhvloi", patrolw/vai" kaiV mhtrolw/vai", ajndrofovnoi" (law is not made for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers [adjectives in italics]): this text clearly shows that Ehrman has overstated his case, for bebhvloi" does not modifypatrolw/vai" but instead is substantival, as are the five previous descriptive terms.

2 Tim 3:2: e[sontai ga;r oiJ a[nqrwpoi fivlautoi filavrguroi ajlazovne" uJperhvfanoi blavsfhmoi, goneu'sin ajpeiqei'", ajcavristoi ajnovsioi (“For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, ...”) Adjectives are italicized. Similar to 1 Tim 1:9; although it could be said that the adjectives are adjectival, they are not modifying the noun in question, but, like it, refer back to the subject mentioned earlier.

Titus 1:10: EijsiVn gaVr polloiV ?kaiV? ajnupovtaktoi, mataiolovgoi kaiV frenapavtai, mavlista oiJ ejk th'" peritomh'" (similar to 1 Tim 1:9; 2 Tim 3:2).

*1 Pet 1:1:ejklektoi'" parepidhvmoi" (“the elect, sojourners”): This text is variously interpreted, but our point is simply that it could fit either scheme for John 1.18. It thus qualifies for texts of which Ehrman says “no one has cited anything analogous outside of this passage.”

***2 Pet 2:5: ejfeivsato ajllaV o[gdoon Nw'e dikaiosuvnh" khvruka (“did not spare [the world], but [preserved] an eighth, Noah, a preacher of righteousness”). The adjective ‘eighth’ stands in apposition to Noah; otherwise, if it modified Noah, the force would be ‘an eighth Noah’ as though there were seven other Noahs!

Added to my examples are those that a doctoral student at Dallas Seminary, Stratton Ladewig, has culled from the NT: Luke 14.13; 18.11; Acts 2.5. As well, he has found several inexact parallels. See his Th.M. thesis, “An Examination of the Orthodoxy of the Variants in Light of Bart Ehrman’s The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture,” Dallas Seminary, 2000.

In light of these examples, we can thus respond directly the question that Ehrman poses: “when is an adjective ever used substantivally when it immediately precedes a noun of the same inflection?” His remark that “No Greek reader would construe such a construction as a string of substantives, and no Greek writer would create such an inconcinnity” is simply not borne out by the evidence. Keep in mind that we have only looked at a sampling of the NT, yet Ehrman suggests that “no Greek writer would create such an inconcinnity.” Yet if Peter, Paul, Luke, and John create such expressions, this internal argument against the reading monogenhV" qeov" is null and void.

It now becomes a matter of asking whether there are sufficient contextual clues that monogenhv" is in fact functioning substantivally. Ehrman has already provided both of them: (1) in John, it is unthinkable that the Word could become the unique God in 1.18 (in which he alone, and not the Father, is claimed to have divine status) only to have that status removed repeatedly throughout the rest of the Gospel. Thus, assuming that monogenhV" qeov" is authentic, we are in fact driven to the sense that Ehrman regards as grammatically implausible but contextually necessary: “the unique one, himself God…” (2) that monogenhv" is already used in v 14 as a substantive3 becomes the strongest contextual argument for seeing its substantival function repeated four verses later. Immediately after Ehrman admits that this adjective can be used substantivally and is so used in v 14 that way, he makes his grammatical argument which is intended to lay the gauntlet down or to shut the coffin lid (choose your cliché on the force of the connection with v 14. But if the grammatical argument won’t cut it, then the substantival use of monogenhv" in v 14 should stand as an important contextual clue. Indeed, in light of the well-worn usage in biblical Greek, we would almost expect monogenhv" to be used substantivally and with the implication of sonship in 1.18.

In conclusion, the internal arguments against monogenhV" qeov" in John 1.18 simply are not sufficient to overturn the strong external evidence in its favor. We have not here dealt with the external evidence, as that is considered to be the strong suit in the argument for the authenticity of this reading. But if the internal evidence is actually on its side as well, then what is to prevent us from rendering this reading in our English translations—and rendering it something like “the unique Son, himself God…”? The NET Bible, as well as other modern translations that adopt the reading monogenhV" qeov", stand vindicated in the face of this syntactical argument.

1 Ehrman, Orthodox Corruption, 81.

2 Another criticism is that Ehrman has too hastily asserted that monogenhv" cannot have the implied force of “unique son” as in “the unique Son, who is God” (ibid., 80-81):

“The difficulty with this view is that there is nothing about the word monogenhv" itself that suggests it. Outside of the New Testament the term simply means ‘one of a kind’ or ‘unique,’ and does so with reference any range of animate or inanimate objects. Therefore, recourse must be made to its usage within the New Testament. Here proponents of the view argue that in situ the word implies ‘sonship,’ for it always occurs (in the New Testament) either in explicit conjunction with uiJov" or in a context where a uiJov" is named and then described as monogenhv" (Luke 9:38, John 1:14, Heb 11:17). Nonetheless, as suggestive as the argument may appear, it contains the seeds of its own refutation: if the word monogenhv" is understood to mean 'a unique son,' one wonders why it is typically put in attribution to uiJov", an attribution that then creates an unusual kind of redundancy ("the unique-son son"). Given the fact that neither the etymology of the word nor its general usage suggests any such meaning, this solution seems to involve a case of special pleading.

The problem with this assertion is threefold: (1) If in the three texts listed above monogenhv" does, in fact, have both a substantival force and involves the implication of sonship, then to argue that this could be the case in John 1.18 is not an instance of special pleading because there is already clear testimony within the NT to this force. (2) Ehrman's argument rests on going outside of biblical Greek for the normative meaning of a term within the Bible. But since in the NT—as well as patristic Greek (see next footnote) and the LXX (cf. Judg 11.34 where the adjective is used prior to the noun that speaks of Jephthah's daughter; Tobit 3.15 is similar; cf. also Tobit 8.17)—monogenhv" often both bears the connotation of 'son' and is used absolutely (i.e., substantivally) to argue for a secular force within the Bible looks like special pleading! (3) To argue that an implied lexical force becomes “an unusual kind of redundancy” when the implication is brought out explicitly in the text requires much more nuancing before it can be applied as any kind of normative principle: on its face, and in application to the case in hand, it strikes me as almost wildly untrue. In grammar and lexeme, the NT is filled with examples in which the ebb and flow of implicit and explicit meaning intertwine with one another. To take but one example from the grammatical side: eijsevrcomai eij" is a generally hellenistic expression in which the increased redundancy (by the doubling of the preposition) gets the point across. It is found over 80 times in the NT, yet it does not mean “come-into into”! Yet, it means the same thing as e[rcomai eij", a phrase that occurs over 70 times in the NT. English examples readily come to mind as well: In colloquial speech, we often hear “foot pedal” (is there any other kind of pedal besides one for the feet?).

3 A quick look at Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexicon also reveals that the substantival function of this adjective was commonplace: p. 881, def. 7, the term is used absolutely (i.e., substantivally) in a host of patristic writers.

Related Topics: Textual Criticism

Our God: Awesome in Power and Glory-Always Battling for His People

Related Media

One of the attributes of God's greatness is his infinite and awesome power, particularly displayed in creation and redemption. In a children's book entitled Is A Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is? Robert Wells gives us a taste of God's power in creation; he takes us from a size we can grasp to one we can't.1

The largest animal on earth is the blue whale. Just the flippers on its tail are bigger than most animals on earth.

But a blue whale isn't anywhere as big as a mountain. If you put hundreds of blue whales in a huge jar, you could put millions of "whale jars" in a hollowed out Mount Everest.

But Mount Everest isn't nearly as big as the earth. If you stacked a hundred Mount Everests on top of each other they would only be a whisker on the face of the earth.

And the earth isn't anywhere as big as the sun. You could fit over one million earths inside the sun.

But the sun, which scientists tell us is a medium size star, isn't anywhere as big as the red supergiant star called Antares. Fifty million-that's right, count them all-fifty million of our suns could fit inside Antares.

But Antares isn't anywhere as big as the Milky Way galaxy. Billions of stars, including supergiants like Antares, as well as countless comets and asteroids, actually make up the Milky Way galaxy.

But the Milky Way galaxy isn't near as big as the universe. There are literally, billions of other galaxies in the universe. And yet, filled with billions of galaxies, the universe is almost totally empty. The distances from one galaxy to another are beyond our fertile imaginations. It simply defies exhaustive comprehension. And so does the One who made it! To think that he did all this with just a spoken word! Incredible! "Righteous" certain young people are wont to say these days. But if the truth be known, it was only an infinitely limited expression of his power. He did it in his sleep!

So when you approach your God today, come with humility, a profound sense of wonder, and a sober fear of displeasing him. For He is awesome in power and a fierce and relentless warrior on behalf of his people. There is good reason the Hebrews referred to him as El Shaddai, "the Almighty," Ish Milchamah, "a man of war"!

God is omnipotent; there is no end to his power to accomplish his saving purposes. Jeremiah the prophet said, "Ah sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched hand. Nothing is too hard for you" (32:17)!

Whatever your needs are, you have not exhausted his strength and power. Whatever your concerns, you have not run his emotional well dry. Whatever your situation, his hand is not too short to save, provide, lead, and fight for you. Whatever the depth of your offenses against him, he is not prevented from forgiving, releasing, and drawing near the truly repentant person. Nothing is too hard for him!

Meditate on Moses' song from Exodus 15 and highlight the different names, attributes, and actions ascribed to God. He is worthy of our unquestioning obedience and devotion. Think also of Moses' response to God's deliverance! God is always in the business of saving his people and opposing those who oppose them.

15:1 Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: "I will sing to the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously, the horse and its rider he has thrown into the sea. 15:2 Yahweh is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. This is my God and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him. 15:3 The Lord is a man of war, the Lord is his name. 15:4 The chariots of Pharaoh and his army he has thrown into the sea, and his chosen officers were drowned in the Sea of Reeds. 15:5 The depths have covered over them, they went down to the bottom like a stone. 15:6 Your right hand, O Lord, was majestic in power, your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy. 15:7 And in the greatness of your majesty you have overthrown those who rise up against you. You sent forth your wrath; it consumed them like stubble. 15:8 And by the blast of your nostrils the waters were piled up, the waters stood upright like a heap, and the deep waters were congealed in the heart of the sea. 15:9 The enemy said, "I will chase, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my desire will be satisfied on them. I will draw my sword, my hand will destroy them." 15:10 But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters. 15:11 Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you?-majestic in holiness, fearful in praises, working wonders? 15:12 You stretched out your right hand, the earth swallowed them. 15:13 By your loyal love you will lead the people whom you have redeemed; you will guide them by your strength to your holy habitation. 15:14 The people will hear and be afraid; anguish will take hold of the inhabitants of Philistia. 15:15 Then the chiefs of Edom will be terrified,/netbible/exo15_notes.htm the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling, and the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away. 15:16 Fear and dread will fall on them; by the greatness of your arm they will be as still as stone until your people pass over, O Lord, until the people pass over, which you have bought. 15:17 You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, in the place, O Lord, you made for your residence, the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands have established. 15:18 The Lord will reign for ever and ever! 15:19 For the horses of Pharaoh went with his chariots and his footmen into the seas, and the Lord brought again the waters of the sea on them, but the Israelites went on dry land in the midst of the sea." 15:20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a hand-drum in her hand, and all the women went out after her with hand-drums and with dances. 15:21 And Miriam sang antiphonally to them, "Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and its rider he has thrown into the sea."

Consider also, the words of the angel to the church in Philadelphia (note the highlighted section):

3:7 "To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write the following: "This is the solemn pronouncement of the Holy One, the True One, who holds the key of David, who opens doors no one can shut, and shuts doors no one can open: 3:8 `I know your deeds. (Look! I have put in front of you an open door that no one can shut.) I know that you have little strength, but you have obeyed my word and have not denied my name. 3:9 Listen! I am going to make those people from the synagogue of Satan-who say they are Jews yet are not, but are lying-Look, I will make them come and bow down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 3:10 Because you have kept my admonition to endure steadfastly, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth. 3:11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one can take away your crown. 3:12 The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never depart from it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God (the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from my God), and my new name as well. 3:13 The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'

1 Robert Wells, Is A Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is? (Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman, 1993).

Related Topics: Theology Proper (God), Devotionals

So What's the Rush? Stay and Talk

Related Media

United States National Park officials welcome 250 million people to their treasured parks each year. Most visitors are day trippers, coming to look and run. In 1983, the average time spent for all forty-eight national parks was four and one-half hours. For Isle Royale it was four days, perhaps due to remoteness. But, Yosemite or Sequoia, Yellowstone or Glacier National Park in four and one-half hours? To so heatedly race in and out of these stunning temples of granite offers no time to pause, let alone stop and look, listen and smell the delights of the mountains, rivers and high country.

What's even worse is that our conversations with God often fare no better. We rush in and out, with a McDonald's drive through spirituality, often missing God's majesty in our haste to go nowhere.

Now this is in part due to our weak comprehension of the beauty and goodness of God. In a culture driven insatiably by this-worldly infatuation, our knowledge of God is scarce, questionable, and threatens prayer with extinction. This is why when Jesus taught on prayer-since he had to deal with the same problems we face today-he expended considerable energy explaining the good nature of God.

So our prayer times often look more like a pit stop on race day at Daytona than a purposeful and delightful stroll through a beautiful park on a spring afternoon. But we did not learn this from Christ. Not a chance! Our Model was different. He was constantly in prayer and for long periods of time. Such was his devotion to prayer and his relationship with the Father that the writer of Hebrews-probably pulling on early church tradition concerning Christ's earthly ministry, including Gethsemane-was prompted to say that "During his earthly life [Jesus] offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his reverent submission" (Heb 5:7).

Let's take a brief look at Hebrews 5:7. The stress in this wonderful passage is generally on the humanity of Christ, that he was truly human-like we are, yet without sin-and needed communion with the Father. He prayed constantly and seriously with great concentration, knowledge of God, and sincerity. The term "supplications" is more intense than "requests" and has been associated by some NT scholars with the ancient practice of holding out an olive branch as a sign of appeal.1 Further, the reference to "loud cries and tears" expresses anguish, struggle, and a deep sense of humble submission to the will of God. Rabbinic tradition suggests that "there are three kinds of prayers, each loftier than the preceding: prayer, crying, and tears. Prayer is made in silence: crying with raised voice; but tears overcome all things (`there is no door through which tears do not pass')."2 Finally, though Gethsemane is an excellent example of Hebrews 5:7, the writer says that this kind of prayer characterized the days of Jesus' life. Our Lord prayed seriously and without ceasing; he loved his Father deeply.

So where are we in this regard? Do we pray constantly? Seriously? With great strength? Or, do we pray once in a while, with passing interest and no real conviction? If this is the case, do not turn inward with a "woe is me" attitude. This will accomplish nothing. Instead, begin to ask God to teach you to pray and expect that you can learn much. This is one of the problems in our churches. We really don't believe that prayer is something that has to be learned through practice, trial, and error. If this were not the case-i.e., that prayer did not need to be learned-then Jesus would never have had to teach his disciples to pray and critique wrong-headed prayer (Matthew 6:5-15)? While it is true that even children can pray, and should, it is equally untrue that adults should remain childish in regard to their prayers. There is a difference between that which is simple and that which is simplistic-and nave. The latter is no virtue.

I leave you with one example which illustrates the "ongoingness" of Jesus' prayer life. The story is in John 11. Martha and Mary informed Jesus that their brother, Lazarus-a person whom Jesus loved-was sick. Now Lazarus was in Bethany in Judea and Jesus was probably across the Jordan to the east when the news reached him. But, instead of departing immediately to attend to his friend, he spent two more days where he was (11:1-6). Then he journeyed to be with his friend.

As Jesus came close to the village of Bethany, he met Martha and eventually Mary. He comforted both of them because Lazarus had died and was buried four days earlier. Jesus himself was deeply moved and wept (11:35). He then went to the tomb where they had laid Lazarus and asked that the stone be moved away. After the stone had been taken away, Jesus looked up to heaven and uttered a most amazing prayer. The part that interests me here is:

"Father, I thank you that you have listened to me" (John 11:41).

The point I wish to make is that nowhere in the text does it say that Jesus had been praying. When, therefore, did God listen to him? If it were a general reference to his prayer life in the past, we would expect to see the word "always" inserted here: "Father, I thank you that you have always listened to me."3 But this is not the case. The context suggests, on the other hand, that from the moment he had heard about it, he had been offering prayer for his friend Lazarus, and for all the people involved, namely, his disciples and friends.4 We may logically infer, then, that his prayers regarding this issue were constant and perhaps silent as he traveled from across the Jordan to Bethany. The fact that he knew when Lazarus died (11:11),5 apart it would seem, from any human means, makes this more tenable. Further, his confidence that God wanted to raise Lazarus from the dead was most likely developed through prayer and communion with God (11:14-15, 23, 40). In any case, the point is that he was praying continuously and as such he provides an excellent model for us. Jesus did not succumb to a drive-through mentality; he was in no rush to skate past God's mountains, rivers, and high country.

1 Donald Guthrie, Hebrews, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, ed. Leon Morris, vol. 15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 129.

2 Leon Morris, "Hebrews," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 49.

3 The fact that it is in the next phrase does not change the thesis advanced here since there it is used with a pluperfect tense verb, i.e., "I knew," whereas the first phrase is in the aorist tense.

4 The whole event is orchestrated to develop the faith of the disciples (11:14-15) as well as Mary and Martha (11:17-37).

5 All he knew up to that point in the text is the report of the illness. There was no mention that Lazarus was dead.

Related Topics: Devotionals

Caught Up in a Story of Wild Proportions

Related Media

"When I was a small boy," says Bruce Larson, "I attended church every Sunday at a big Gothic Presbyterian bastion in Chicago. The preaching was powerful and the music was great. But for me, the most awesome moment in the morning service was the offertory, when twelve solemn, frock-coated ushers marched in lock-step down the main aisle to receive the brass plates for collecting the offering. These men, so serious about their business of serving the Lord in this magnificent house of worship, were the business and professional leaders of Chicago.

"One of the twelve ushers was a man named Frank Loesch. He was not a very imposing-looking man, but in Chicago he was a living legend, for he was the man who had stood up to Al Capone. In the prohibition years, Capone's rule was absolute. The local and state police and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation were afraid to oppose him. But single-handedly, Frank Loesch, as a Christian layman and without any government support, organized the Chicago Crime Commission, a group of citizens that was determined to take Mr. Capone to court and put him away. During the months that the Crime Commission met, Frank Loesch's life was in constant danger. There were threats on the lives of his family and friends. But he never wavered. Ultimately, he won the case against Capone and was the instrument for removing this blight from the city of Chicago. Frank Loesch had risked his life to live out God's call on his life.

"Each Sunday at this point in the service, my father, a Chicago businessman himself, never failed to poke me and silently point to Frank Loesch with pride. Sometimes I'd catch a tear in my father's eye. For my dad, and for all of us, this was and is what authentic Christian living is all about."

There is nothing like a living example of truth to dispel the fog from our brains and motivate us to action. Truth clothed in flesh is like meeting a famous radio personality for the first time; it's amazing how different they look from what you had imagined.

My brothers and sisters around the world, it is time to live out our faith and to graciously stand for what we know to be right. It's time to seek God for our families, towns, cities, countries, and world. Yesterday I went with a friend of mine, early in the morning, to walk around a high school and pray for the students, teachers, principal, vice principal, parents, maintenance crew, and every other person connected to the school. There is so much violence, drug abuse, immorality, and general hopelessness among our teens these days that such anguish has certainly reached heaven's ears. Certainly God is concerned about the oppression people are under and has come down to see if the situation is as grave as he's been told!

Genesis 18:20 So the Lord said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so blatant 18:21 that I must go down and see if they are as wicked as the outcry suggests. If not, I want to know."

Jonah 4:10 The Lord said, "You were upset about this little plant, something for which you have not worked nor did you do anything to make it grow. It grew up overnight and died the next day. 4:11 Should I not be even more concerned about Nineveh this enormous city? There are more than one hundred twenty thousand people in it who do not know right from wrong, as well as many animals!"

We're praying for ways to serve and bless all those connected to the school: "Lord, lead us in our prayers! Lead us into the kinds of ministries you want to see developed there. What is the best way to serve these people, share the gospel, and disciple them?" Our ultimate aim is to see a vibrant, Spirit-led, scripturally relevant church planted at the school and all sorts of ministries going on for the kids and staff there. We want to see the Lord of love, life, and liberty exalted in that place. We want to see people worship Him with zeal, power, and understanding. We want to see them delivered from their addictions, futility, and idolatry and brought into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (Col 1:13-14).

Look carefully at what God said to Moses:

Exodus 3:7 Then the Lord said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 3:8 I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a land that is both good and large, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the territory of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. 3:9 And now, indeed, the cry of the Israelites has come to me, and I have also seen how severely the Egyptians oppress them. 3:10 So now, go, and I will send you [Moses] to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."

Notice how the idea of "deliverance" is God's, but he chooses to send people to serve Him in the process of saving others. God is the One who sees oppression; we are those who either create it or comply with it. But God stands against it and marshals himself and others to do something redemptive about it.

But notice that he doesn't do it alone. He says, "I have come down to deliver..." but then he commands Moses, telling him to "go!" For some reason it seems that God loves to involve people in his plans. God sees oppression, so he sends a person to bring about a new state of affairs where righteousness, peace, and love reign! In other words, we get the privilege of walking with him and participating first hand in his world-changing plans! Wow!

So ask yourself a question today: "God, what great plan of yours are you calling me into? How can I serve you like Frank Loesch served you? What are you doing in my midst and how can I get on board?" You may find yourself caught up in story of wild proportions! Just read on in Exodus and see what I mean...

Related Topics: Devotionals

Knowing Diamonds or Loving Diamonds: Which Is It?

Related Media

The famous New York diamond dealer Harry Winston heard about a wealthy Dutch merchant who was looking for a certain kind of diamond to add to his collection. Winston called the merchant, told him that he thought he had the perfect stone, and invited the collector to come to New York and examine it.

The collector flew to New York and Winston assigned a salesman to meet him and show him the diamond. When the salesman presented the diamond to the merchant he described the expensive stone by pointing out all its fine technical features. The merchant listened and praised the stone but turned away and said, “It’s a wonderful stone but not exactly what I wanted.”

Winston, who had been watching the presentation from a distance, stopped the merchant and asked, “Do you mind if I show you the diamond once again?” The merchant agreed and Winston presented the same stone. But, instead of talking about the technical features of the stone, Winston spoke spontaneously about his own genuine admiration of the diamond and what a rare thing of beauty it was. Abruptly, the customer changed his mind and bought the diamond.

While he was waiting for the diamond to be packaged and brought to him, the merchant turned to Winston and asked, “Why did I buy it from you when I had no difficulty saying no to your salesman?”

Winston replied, “The salesman is one of the best in the business and he knows more about diamonds than I do. I pay him a good salary for what he knows. But I would gladly pay him twice as much, if I could put into him something I have and he lacks. You see, he knows diamonds, but I love them.”

Do you just know about Christ? Do you unconsciously equate knowing the Bible or theology with really loving Him? Or, do you know Him and love Him? Is your Christianity rooted solely in the intellectual technicalities of the faith? Or, are you emotionally and spiritually in love with your Savior? Does He command your best thoughts, draw out your deepest desires, and secure your happy and willing allegiance? Have you experienced His wooing? His attractive presence? Is there a joyful spontaneity about your relationship? Or, is your Christianity predictable—akin to watching the same ol’ miserable reruns you once loved, but have now grown quite tired of? Your life can burst forth like a song, you know, it doesn’t have to read like a telephone book!

Listen to the passion of the apostle Paul: “My purpose is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10-11). When I read this passage the first time (and many times since), I bowed my head and asked God to grant me the same heart he gave Paul. Wouldn’t it be great, I imagined, to love Christ like this! So free! So fearless! So all encompassing! I want to know him, experience his power, share in his sufferings, and be like Christ in his death. I want my life to be so taken up into His that I might be able to cry out, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21)! There are moments, however, when I shudder to think how God might fulfill that prayer, but in the end his perfect love drives out all fear.

In short, I think it’s necessary to know and understand theology, the scriptural text in detail, church history, apologetics, and anything else that stimulates our thinking and commitment to truth. But, blessed are those who love our Lord Jesus Christ more than these; who understand the difference between finding a famous site on a map and being there to enjoy it in person. Blessed are those who love Him with an undying love (Eph 6:24). Blessed are those who intuit the difference between knowing a lot about diamonds and loving the One, True Diamond!

Related Topics: Devotionals

He Pitched His Tent Among Us

Related Media

When narcotic's squad detectives recently raided a loft apartment in a depressed area of New York City, they came on a scene straight out of "The Beggar's Opera." Every square foot of the long, dingy apartment was crowded with human derelicts who were sleeping on the floor, or sitting huddled in corners; dimly visible overhead were a number of gay paper ceiling ornaments, left over from the days when the loft had been a dance hall. After searching the crowd, the detectives arrested six men who were carrying hypodermic needles and packets of heroin; they also arrested the derelicts' host, a mild, weedy-looking man who was charged with harboring drug addicts in his apartment.

At police headquarters, the weedy-looking man claimed he was actually well-to-do, but that he had chosen to live among the homeless in order to provide them with food, shelter, and clothing. His door, he said, was open to all, including a small minority of narcotic addicts, since he had not known it was against the law to feed and clothe people with the drug habit. Checking his story, the police found that the man was neither a vagrant nor a drug addict. He was John Sargent Cram, a millionaire who had been educated at Princeton and Oxford, and whose family had long been known for its philanthropies.1

So it is with God in Christ. He too, though rich beyond measure, left His penthouse dwelling and made His home among the homeless, destitute, and morally shunned of this world. He left His palace of gold to walk streets of mud...and he did it to rescue us (Gal 1:4). He left a drug-free zone to live with pill pushers and drug dealers, determined to feed, clothe, and redeem them. As John said, Jesus pitched his tent among us and we have beheld his glory, the glory of the One and Only, Son of God (John 1:14).

Have you ever given serious meditation and prayer to the thought of the incarnation, that is, to the fact that God somehow clothed Himself with human frailty in order to live among those with unclean hands and tainted hearts? It's as mysterious as it is wonderful that God Himself should visit His planet and pitch His tent among us-among the Pharisees, tax-collectors, prostitutes, and the poor and needy. Like a breathtaking sunset, clothed in rich purple, orange, and blue, the thought of the incarnation is marvelous, utterly mysterious, and majestic. That my God should leave the richest fair to eat with those on the street is utterly wonderful and incomprehensible.

Toady, as you go about your business, think deeply about Jesus Christ, especially about the cost he paid to dwell with us as the God-man. Ask yourself some questions: (1) Would you have made the sacrifice? (2) What are some implications that flow from the truth that the eternal Son of God has forever clothed Himself with humanity? Have you considered that? The second person of the trinity will forever walk with us as the incarnate Son of God. At no point in the eternal state will he give up His glorified body. (3) What does the incarnation say about God's desire to fellowship with us? (4) How was Jesus' first coming both a revelation of who God is, but also a veiling at the same time? (5) What does the incarnation say about God's view of creation? (6) How does one reverently worship God in light of our knowledge of the incarnation?

1 Charles R. Swindoll, ed. The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart and 1,501 Other Stories (Nashville: Word, 1998), 111.

Related Topics: Devotionals

Go for the Wine

Related Media

Every now and again we must be reminded that the Lord's Prayer begins with "Our Father" and not "Our needs." Prayer involves access to the presence of God, first and foremost. C. S. Lewis observed essentially the same thing. In discussing the question of whether prayer really "works," with his candid insight, he explains that,

The very question `Does prayer work?' puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. `Work': as if it were magic, or a machine-something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its wine. In it God shows himself to us. That he answers prayers is a corollary-not necessarily the most important one-from the revelation. What he does is learned from what he is.1

Now we are clearly not saying, nor would God ever endorse the idea, that making requests of Him is unchristian or pure paganism. Not at all. But, we are saying that coming to Him only for what we can get out of Him or constantly coming to Him, first for what He can give us, is sub-Christian. This is the same mistake made by those who revel in God's promises all the while divorcing them from the Promise-Giver who wants to be known personally as the Faithful One. These people want the gifts, but not the Giver. They've passed over the adoration and the presence and vision of God for something less.

Therefore, what prayer is really all about knowing God intimately, and while that entails answers to prayer, the more important fact is communion with Him and the enjoyment of His presence. Communion with Him, however, is deeply rooted in who we understand Him to be. A. W. Tozer has said that,

what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. ...the gravest question before the church is always God himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. ...Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about him or leaves unsaid. ...Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the questions, "What comes into your mind when you think about God?" we might be able to predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Were we able to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think of God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the church will stand tomorrow.2

Our understanding of God is absolutely crucial to our relationship with Him and especially to our prayer lives. Prayer is carried to God in faith. Growing faith, in many respects, is dependent on who we think God really is. Therefore, the vibrancy of our prayer lives is directly dependent on our thoughts and our personal knowledge of God.

This may answer the question as to why there is so little real prayer in our churches today. People do not think about their God very often, and according to the latest polls in evangelicalism, not very seriously either.3

Here I am not referring solely to "knowledge" as mastering systematic theological outlines and details, though it most certainly entails this kind of thinking. Rather, I am referring to a deep, theological understanding of God, ourselves, and our world, as pressed home to our hearts in biblical study, meditation, prayer/worship, and going through temptation.

But, while the distance from the head to the heart in most people is only about 12 inches, the pipeline joining the two appears to be less than the width of a straw. The solution: Repentance and Trust-trust expressed in sincere and devout reflection on God in his Word and in His presence. We must also reflect on what godly theologians as teachers of the church have said about Him in the past and present. But we must do so with humility and prolonged meditation, not just to fill our heads for the next unsuspecting victim, but to be truly drawn into a fuller experience of and relationship with our Savior! We must lay hold of God himself! We must go for the wine, as C. S Lewis has said. What would that look like for you?

1 C. S. Lewis, "The Efficacy of Prayer," in Fern-seed and Elephants and Other Essays on Christianity, ed. Walter Hooper (Glasgow: Collins, 1975), 101.

2 A. W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy (Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1961), 1-2.

3 See Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don't Think and What To Do about It (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994); Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994).

Related Topics: Prayer, Devotionals

Consider It All Joy

Related Media

Introduction: A Hammer, File, and Furnace

God uses many different kinds of trials in our lives in order to mold, awaken, and mature us, i.e., to make us lovely, Christlike people. These sources for trial can be compared to various things in life, for example, a hammer, a file, or a furnace. A. W. Tozer explains,

Now, the hammer is a useful tool but the nail, if it had feelings and intelligence, could present another side of the story. For the nail knows the hammer only as an opponent, a brutal, merciless enemy who lives to pound it into submission, to beat it down out of sight and clinch it into place. That is the nail's view of the hammer, and it is accurate, except for one thing: The nail forgets that both it and the hammer are servants of the same workman. Let the nail but remember that the hammer is held by the workman and all resentment toward it will disappear. The carpenter decides whose head will be beaten next and what hammer shall be used in the beating. That is his sovereign right. When the nail has surrendered to the will of the workman and has gotten a little glimpse of his benign plans for its future it will yield to the hammer without complaint.

The file is more painful still, for its business is to bite into the soft metal, scraping and eating away the edges till it has shaped the metal to its will. Yet the file has, in truth, no real will in the matter, but serves another master, as the metal also does. It is the master and not the file that decides how much shall be eaten away, what shape the metal shall take, and how long the painful filing shall continue. Let the metal accept the will of the master and it will not try to dictate when or how it shall be filed.

As for the furnace it is the worst of all. Ruthless and savage, it leaps at every combustible thing that enters it and never relaxes its fury till it has reduced it all to shapeless ashes. All that refuses to burn is melted to a mass of helpless matter, without will or purpose of its own. When everything is melted that will melt and all is burned that will burn, then and not till then the furnace calms down and rests from its destructive fury.1

Suffering is no fun. Sometimes God uses a hammer-at least it feels that way-and at other times he uses a painful file. He even uses a furnace, though perhaps not as often, being ever mindful that we are made of dust. Suffering is gut wrenching and drawn out at times, but the one thing that you must know, Christian, is that God is with you through the whole ordeal. He has focused all his energies on you and will never leave your side, though for a moment it may seem as if he's abandoned your heart and fled from your thoughts.

How We Should Respond to Suffering (and Why)

But how should we respond to suffering? Sometimes we balk at the very thought of it. It's unthinkable to us that our heavenly Father would even permit, let alone design suffering into his plan for our lives. We persist in this illusion even though scripture clearly teaches us that God creates both light and the darkness, peace and calamity, though only for our good.

Now there are various reasons why we suffer. Some times we suffer because we've made patently impetuous and poor decisions. And so we're in the process of reaping what we've sown and God permits it to teach us that His glory and our good are all that matter to Him. This does not mean that you cannot ask God to end the trial. He may say "No," but in his infinite wisdom and mercy He may grant your request as you humble your heart and return to your Savior. It may, however, be better to ask for wisdom in the midst of a trial, rather than ask God to immediately end it. Nonetheless, God is infinitely merciful, taking delight in His people and listening to their cries for help (Exod 3:7)!

But there are seasons in our lives when we suffer though we've not sinned in any specific way. We all realize that we sin each and every day of our lives, but that is not the same thing as committing a particularly egregious sin or developing an ongoing pattern of unbelief or moral impurity. In short, there are times when we suffer-whether at the hands of other people or circumstances God sends our way-simply because God is working in our lives to purify, strengthen, and enlarge the room in our hearts for Him. So has God brought a hammer into your life lately? Is He working away with a file? Or do you feel like you're in the furnace right now? What is God's overall wisdom to us in these circumstances? Listen to James:

1:2 My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, 1:3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 1:4 And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything. 1:5 But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. 1:6 But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. 1:7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, 1:8 since he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Suffering is no fun. But James doesn't tell us to consider it fun! He tells us to "consider it all joy." Going to Disney's Theme Park is fun. Suffering daily with illness, losing a business, or grief through any form of loss...well, that's not fun! But such trials can be processed with joy, be they a hammer, file, or furnace!

Yet you ask, "How in the world can a person consider the trials which have surrounded them, like a pack of hungry wolves, all joy?

Don't psychiatrists preach that such a perspective usually evidences gross denial, plain and simple? And don't the experts claim that such people should immediately go on medication or be locked up before they explode?

But again, James doesn't say, "Deny that you're in a real tough battle right now." He doesn't say, "Deaden the pain though binging and purging, through more movies, through other forms of escapism." He actually tells us to consider our trials, that is, he encourages us to give careful thought to what's going on in our lives. And he tells us to do so in a certain way, because of what will happen in and through us as a result. That's materially different.

First, James encourages us to consider, regard, or view these trials with joy. And, "no," he's not joking! We are to welcome difficulties as we would an old and dear friend. Think of an old friend you haven't seen for years. Think of meeting him/her again. Would your face be downcast when you saw them? Would you offer them bitterness, anger, and a pouting attitude? No! You would receive them into your home, delighted that they had come to visit. You would open your heart to them and receive them with joy! So it should be with least according to James.

But, James tells us not to welcome trials simply with joy, but to welcome them with all joy! Our joy is not to be mixed with anything but more joy. It is to flow like pure brook water, untainted with the dirt of unbelief and bitterness.

But why? Why should we consider the trials in our lives with all joy? Answer: Because we know what trials accomplish in us. We are being tested so that we might look more like Christ in terms of patience/endurance. In short, we are being tested so that we might become mature and complete, with a pure and undefiled faith. We go through testing so that we might not lack anything!

Have you seriously considered that before? If you deeply want to grow in Christ, to enjoy greater intimacy with Him, and to reflect his persevering heart in your experience, then welcome trials with joy. Like the words of faithful friends, they cut deep, but in the end, you're a more Christlike Christian! In the end, your family benefits. In the end, the church is blessed. In the end, the world is changed!

But there's a second reality that empowers us toward rejoicing and joy in the midst of trials and it is this: if we're being tested, there must be Someone giving the test! Thus we know that we are not suffering for something, but for and with Someone...We're suffering at the nail-pierced, blood-stained hands of Christ Himself. He has designed the particular trial through which we're passing and He will carry us in it-carry us, I say, with those blood-stained hands!


So, if you know Him and today there are no particularly difficult trials in your life, consider yourself blessed and thank the Lord. But if you know Him, and you're passing through the fire today, then consider it all joy; welcome the various and diverse trials as old friends! Know that it is Christ himself who is working out his great plan in your life and that nothing can separate you from His love (Rom 8:38-39). He is only working spiritual fruit in you so that you might be mature and complete and that you might in turn enjoy Him more.

If you do not know the Lord today, then listen to what he's telling you through the difficulties of life. You were not made to "go it alone." You were designed for relationship with people and, most importantly, with the Ultimate Person. Trials are God's knock at your door. Don't tell Him He has the wrong address. Rather, welcome Him in and watch how everything changes!

1 A. W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous, as quoted in Charles Swindoll, ed. The Tardy Oxcart, 581.

Related Topics: Devotionals

God's Love: Our Enduring Song!

Related Media

The heart of God is filled with love and in its center stands a cross. The cross-the ignoble means by which God has satisfied the just demands of His Law (i.e., his own holiness) and freely embraced us as sinners. The law stipulates that the penalty of sin is death (Romans 6:23). So Christ paid that penalty in our place. The apostle John says: "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10). Paul says: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Peter also says the same thing: "For Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18).

Jesus Christ lived a perfect, sinless life (Heb 4:15) and obediently offered himself to God as a ransom for people (Mark 10:45). The full and just demands of the law have been met in Him and His death pays the penalty for our sins (Heb 9:28). God's wrath has been fully satiated and His love flows freely upon this blood-stained ground. God's love is his mercy and grace abundantly showered on those whom He has chosen in Christ (Ephesians 1:4). He promises to freely welcome and embrace all who come to Him by faith.

Therefore, we must trust Him and Him alone for our salvation and Christian life. As Paul said: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). He died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again" (2 Corinthians 5:15; see also John 14:21-23; 15:10). What love! What mercy! How the love of God draws our hearts, nourishes our troubled souls, and fills our being with persistent hope!

When Louis Lawes became the warden of Sing Sing Prison in 1920, the inmates existed in wretched conditions. This led him to introduce humanitarian reforms. He gave much of the credit to his wife, Kathryn, however, who always treated the prisoners as human beings. She would often take her three children and sit with gangsters, the murderers, and the racketeers while they played basketball and baseball.

Then, in 1937, Kathryn was killed in a car accident. The next day her body lay in a casket in a house about a quarter mile from the institution. When the acting warden found hundreds of prisoners crowded around the main entrance to the prison, he knew what they wanted. Opening the gate, he said, "Men, I'm going to trust you. You can go to the house." No count was taken; no guards were posted. Yet not one man was missing that night. Love for one who had loved them had made them faithful men.

So it is with God's love poured out in my heart (Rom 5:5). Constrained by God's presence to me in love I simply cannot continue in my wayward ways and sinful paths. It is his persistent love that calms my anxious heart, lowers my defenses, and bids me accept His appraisal of my life. His love leads me into His sanctuary where I find real healing, lasting help, and certain hope. It is the Father's deep love that sent Christ to the cross on my behalf, to pay the penalty incurred through my sin. Have I trusted Him and Him alone for forgiveness? Or, am I still putting that decision off? "Now is the day of salvation," says Paul. Won't you trust Christ today? Right now?

Some people claim they've responded to Christ's love, but in reality they're still estranged from Him. Like any relationship, the choices we make often alienate us from ones who freely love us and sincerely desire our presence and friendship. As long as we continue to disregard God's offer of friendship, by pursuing our own agendas, plans, and schemes, we're alienating ourselves from Him, casting our hope to the ground, and sealing our futures apart from Him.

So be careful that you're not simply "toying around" with believing in Christ. Such people are like the young woman who was being pursued by a young man who truly loved her. As the two sat together overlooking a beautiful lake, the young man proposed to her: "Darling," he said, full of affection, "I want you to know that I love you more than anything in the world. I want you to marry me. I'm not wealthy; I'm not rich. I don't have a yacht or Rolls-Royce like Johnny Brown, but I do love you with all my heart." She thought for a minute, and then replied, "I love you with all of my heart, too, but tell me more about Johnny Brown." Jesus' love calls us out to faithfulness, and like the prisoners in Sing Sing, it will produce genuine fidelity in us. Those who have really tasted the love of Christ are not at all interested in talk of Johnny Brown!

The Love of God is greater far

Than tongue or pen can ever tell,

It goes beyond the highest star

And reaches to the lowest hell;

The guilty pair, bowed down with care,

God gave His Son to win:

His erring child He reconciled

And pardoned from his sin.


Could we with ink the ocean fill

And were the skies of parchment made,

Were every stalk on earth a quill

And every man a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry,

Nor could the scroll contain the whole

Though stretched from sky to sky


O Love of God how rich and pure!

How measureless and strong!

It shall forevermore endure

The saints' and angel's song.1

1 F. M. Lehman, The Love of God, 1917; as cited in Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 78.

Download Word Document

Related Topics: Devotionals