The Rhino Room | What is Common Grace?

Rhino Room

Rhino Room

What is common grace and how is it manifest?

Nicolas Alford (Pastor, Grace Baptist Church of Taylors, South Carolina)

Common grace is the doctrine that God has a universal love for all mankind, and we who affirm it shouldn’t be afraid to say so. Similar to how I have different sorts of love for different things (how I love my favorite sandwich, compared to how I love my wife), God has different sorts of love for different people as well. He loves his elect in a special and redemptive way, but he still loves all mankind-elect and non-elect included.

It is manifest in his indiscriminate benevolence, his restraint of sin, and the reality of many blessings in the lives of people who will never confess faith in Jesus Christ (Gen 9:8-17, Matt 5:43-48). Common grace also is intended to lead men to repentance (Romans 2:4-5), a powerful argument for the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel.

Also, bacon is common grace.

Samuel Barber (Pastoral Assistant, Ephesus Church of Rincon, Georgia)

Common grace is the reason why good things happen to bad people. Common grace is that undeserved favor, which God freely bestows upon all of fallen, sinful mankind (hence the word common). In Genesis 8:20-9:7, God makes a covenant with all of creation after the flood (with Noah as the federal head) where he promises general blessings for life to all of mankind. Jesus also addresses this concept in Matthew 5:45; here he tells his disciples that God gives good gifts both to wicked and to righteous men. The point is that God’s benevolence and kindness are not restricted simply to his elect people. God does not withhold good even from his enemies. Common grace is not saving grace, but it does reveal God’s general love for all of his creation, and it urges men to turn to God in repentance (Romans 2:4).

Wayne Brandow (Pastor, Bible Baptist Church of Galway, New York)

Common Grace is none other than the universal good that God manifests towards all men. In the Sermon on the Mount, God’s grace to both the evil and the good is clearly expressed in Mathew 5:44-45: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Common Grace reveals to us that God is not a malevolent God, but He is characterized by benevolence. This is even seen in the fact that He “does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). That God is said to repent in Genesis 6 is best explained by common grace.

Robert Cole (Pastor, Berean Baptist Church of Modesto, California)

To witness and experience common grace, one need only to spend 15 minutes in your local Walmart. There you will find a wide array of people enjoying common grace. All people, regardless of their standing with God, are enjoying the fruits of their labor as they spend it on items both of necessity and pleasure. Many of these people live blatantly as if the God who has provided these things does not exist while others who do know Him (This observer included) either honor him there or live as if He has not given to them for His own glory. Like common grace, all of the items on the shelves have an expiration date. “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (‭1 John‬ ‭2‬:‭17, ESV).

Matt Foreman (Pastor, Faith Reformed Baptist Church of Media, Pennsylvania)

Common Grace is God’s general goodness, loving care, and providential influence for all of His creation, especially in humanity.  By common grace, God retains his image in humanity, influences their consciences, restrains their sin, and manifests his goodness and gifts in their lives, irrespective of their faith or its lack.  God can be at work, manifesting goodness, in and through even unbelievers and unbelieving cultures.  However, God only shows special, saving grace to his elect.

Dr. Bob Gonzales (Dean, Reformed Baptist Seminary)

The basic meaning of grace-vocabulary in Scripture is kindness or favor. Some favor is shown by God or man to the deserving and is, therefore, merited (Luke 2:52). More often, though, the favor God shows toward humanity is unmerited. To the elect he shows an exclusive favor that may be called “saving grace” (Eph 2:8). To fallen humanity in general God bestows an indiscriminate favor that may be called “common grace” (Luke 6:35).

Theologians usually classify the manifestations of common grace as (1) God’s restraint of human sin (Gen 11:6-9), (2) God’s conferral of temporal blessings upon humans (Matt 5:45), and (3) God’s endowment of humans with knowledge, capacities, and skills (Gen 4:20-22). While common grace by itself cannot effect the sinner’s salvation, it can serve to reveal God’s saving posture toward sinful men. In that sense, we may say common grace has a saving design (Rom 2:4).

Marc Grimaldi (Pastor, Grace Reformed Baptist Church of Merrick, New York)

Especially as a cursed, fallen and condemned people, under the judgment of God, mankind is never entitled to any form of benevolence from God.  And yet, God has chosen to exercise grace — His free favor and unmerited kindness — toward unworthy sinners.  This grace meets fallen man, in two ways:

  1. God exercises “special” or salvific grace toward His elect children, whom He has chosen to redeem, adopt and sanctify in Christ, before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1).
  2. God exercises “common” grace toward all of mankind, in that He provides man with various temporal blessings, in accordance with their needs.  In this sense, God exercises a general benevolence toward all, making “His sun rise on the evil and on the good, sending rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:45).”

God’s common grace also serves as a restraint for evil.  Without it, the world would immediately devour itself.

Nicholas Kennicott (Pastor, Ephesus Church of Rincon, Georgia)

Common grace is God’s unmerited favor and kindness shown to both believers and non-believers alike. My garden doesn’t grow any better than my non-Christian neighbor’s garden simply because I’m a Christian. God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). We all depend on common grace every day, usually without recognizing it, and should give thanks for things like doctors and medicine, beautiful music and art, and the restraint of evil. Cultures that place a higher value on biblical morality have greater measures of common grace, while those under God’s judgment experience very little. Unfortunately, many Christians seek to live all of life upon God’s common grace instead of partaking of the abundant riches of that which is only available to the Christian in God’s special, sovereign grace.

Chris Marley (Pastor, Miller Valley Baptist Church of Miller Valley, Arizona)

Common grace is really one of the most underrated doctrines we have, and its displacement has caused serious errors, like trying to make Plato or Confucius Christians. We have to acknowledge the reality of God giving good, temporal things to reprobates. There are two connections that I have not seen in writing that have always hung in the back of my mind. First, the concept of common grace is connected to God’s unique interplay between justice and mercy as he gives reward (their best life now, if you will) to the lost, because our best life is next. This is all the reprobate ever gets. The second connection that I see common grace as connected to or even a sub-category of secondary causes. Wealth, wisdom, talent, etcetera are given to the unregenerate as part of the secondary cause system that God works together for our good and his glory.

Chris Okogwu (Church Plant Coordinator, Sovereign Grace Bible Church of Abuja, Nigeria)

In God’s holy and wise oversight in ruling over all His creation in His exhaustive providence, “the Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made. . .the eyes of all look to You, and You give them food in due season. You open Your hand; You satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Psa. 145:9, 15-16); this is a glimpse of His common grace.

Common grace speaks of God’s indiscriminate or general benevolence/kindness to all (Matt. 5:45). It is God’s gracious bestowal of natural gifts, such as the breath of life (Isa. 42:5), intelligence and ability to make wealth (Deut. 8:18, Ecc. 5:19), food for consumption (Acts 14:17), and all perceivable and imperceivable good which men richly enjoy is received from Him (Psa. 85:12, 1Cor. 4:7, 1Tim. 6:17).

Douglas Van Dorn (Pastor, Reformed Baptist Church of Northern Colorado)

Common Grace is grace, just like Special Grace is grace. Same grace. This grace (either Common or Special) is not a “thing,” not a “substance,” much less are they two separate “things.” Grace is a disposition of kindness, love, and a willingness to save. Common Grace is “the tastes of God’s love” upon sinners.[1] It is the way God is operating towards unbelievers as he restrains their evil, preserves them, works through government, shows them mercy, patience, and favor with a view of winning them to repentance (Romans 2:4) through a well-meant offer of the Gospel. It is distinguished from God’s disposition towards the elect at a particular point in their lives on the earth when he operates in a special way because of his love of election via the Holy Spirit who quickens them and effectually brings them to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

[1] See Thomas Manton“A Practical Commentary, Or An Exposition with Notes on the Epistle of Jude,” in The Complete Works of Thomas Manton (London: James Nisbet & Co. 1871), 5:62-63.

New to The Decablog | The Rhino Room

Rhino Room

Rhino Room

We are kicking off a new weekly feature at the Decablog called The Rhino Room. Each week, we will ask a question of a panel of ministry leaders from different parts of the world, and they will have 150 words or less to answer. We hope the varied perspectives will provide a comprehensive overview of each question, and offer ample material for discussion in the comment section of the blog.

The questions will cover a wide spectrum to include systematic and biblical theology, culture, history, pastoral theology, etc. Each week’s question and answers will be posted on Tuesdays and, we hope, the remainder of the week will be filled with discussion.

Do you have a burning question? We would love to hear from you! If you have a question you want us to consider, feel free to add it in the comment section below, or contact one of the blog admins.

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: An Annotated Bibliography


In this Appendix to the series on Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible, we want to give you a brief annotated list of books that can help you get started reading some of the material we have discussed. The lists are in order of the posts, with priority given to more general resources first. Any alphabetizing occurs only after we put books in our own personal order of importance. Let’s get to it.

Many book icons are clickable. Of course, it goes without saying that you should shop around if you want to buy something.

GENERAL (introductions to various writings and authors)

1565634098Craig A. Evans, Noncanonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Pub., 1992). My favorite brief introduction to the Apocrypha, OT Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo and Josephus, the Targums, Rabbinic Literatures, NT Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Early Church Fathers, and Gnostic Writings. This book has a little introduction to just about everything. Evans has an updated version of this book called Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature.

41cSFlCwvaL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Joseph A. Fitzmyer, A Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008)From Amazon: This aid to navigating the Dead Sea Scrolls lists specifically where readers can find each of the scrolls and fragmentary texts from the eleven caves of Qumran and all the related sites. The book includes a fully searchable CD-ROM.

51xeQcOtovL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Introduction and Biographical Information, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005). Brief biographies for nearly every Church Father. This resource comes with the complete Ancient Christian Commentary series, but I cannot find it available in a single volume online.

9781601780003Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006). From Amazon: This encyclopedic resource provides biographical sketches of all the major Puritans as well as bibliographic summaries of their writings and work. Meet the Puritans is an important addition to the library of the layman, pastor, student and scholar.

APOCRYPHA (Read Post Here)

The Apocrypha Online. Read the Apocrypha free in different English translations here.

51ianemELDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha: Augmented Third Edition, ed. Michael D. Coogan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). This is a short but good collection of the Apocrypha that gives a bare-bones introduction to each of the books for readers that know little to nothing about them. The English text follows the RSV translation of the Apocrypha.


Pseudepigrapha Online. A great online resource for texts of the pseudepigrapha (both OT and NT), as well as the Apocrypha and a few other things.

OT Pseudepigrapha Studies. This page is a reference site, billed as an encyclopedia of the pseudepigrapha.

old-testament-pseudepigraphaJames H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: 2 Vols (New York;  London: Yale University Press, 1983). This has become the standard introduction to around seventy different Pseudepigrapha texts. Each book comes with an introduction and notes. This work is a upgrading of Robert Henry Charles, ed., Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament: 2 Vols (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2004). Originally published by Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1913, which was the first major collection of Pseudepigrapha into English. This links to the cheaper paperback version, but it is available in hardcover and from Logos.

9780802827395Richard Bauckham, James Davila, Alex Panayotov, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, Volume 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing,  2013). This new collection includes many texts not found in Charlesworth. Like Charlesworth, each book has a helpful introduction and notes. Volume 2 is not yet out. This is also available at Logos, but is super expensive.

scripture-index-to-charlesworth-s-old-testament-pseudepigraphia-Steve Delamarter, A Scripture Index to Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002). A fascinating index! “This book is a complete index to the nearly 8000 references to the protestant scriptures in the margins and footnotes of James Charlesworth’s 2-volume work, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. The information in the index will assist those studying the influence of the Hebrew Bible on the pseudepigrapha and the influence of the pseudepigrapha on the New Testament.” (From the blurb on Google Books, which this link takes you to. It can also be purchased at Amazon).

51gNF6gFDAL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 8 (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886). Many NT pseudepigrapha or apocrypha were put into the great Ante-Nicene Church Father’s collection that many have in book form and can be found for free on the internet. They are contained in Volume 8. This links to the CCEL free online version.


0333.dead-sea-scrolls-bibleMartin Abegg Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English (New York: HarperOne, 1999). This is the definitive English translation of the Hebrew Scriptures as found at Qumran. A great resource. It is available as a book or on Logos platform.

44936_1_ftc_dpFlorentino Garcı́a Martı́nez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition [translations] (Leiden; New York: Brill, 1997–1998). This collection has many of the texts found at Qumran translated into English. It is a great starter collection and is available in book or on the Logos platform along with the transcriptions edition, if you want to read the original language.

book_r483F51rKdkmmjaL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_lavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987) and Charles Duke Yonge with Philo of Alexandria, The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995). These volumes speak for themselves. Read the Jewish historian and philosopher in their collected works. These are invaluable first century complements to the New Testament culture and worldview.

The Mishnah: A New Integrated Translation and commentary:

the-aramaic-bible-seriesTargum Wikipedia. Targums are expensive, but the wiki on Targums has a list of a few available in English online. If you are super crazy, you can buy the full set at Logos. Click the link and gasp. Then be good and beg Santa for a Christmas present, unless of course you don’t believe in Santa or don’t like Christmas.


9780801034688Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007). This text has short introductions to each of the books in the collection as well as both Greek and Holmes’ English translation. An earlier edition is available at Logos. You can also find an older version of the Apostolic Fathers in the Ante-Nicene Fathers collection Volume 1.


nicenefathersAlexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., The Church Fathers in 38 Volumes (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886). This is the classic (and cheapest) version of the Church Fathers. The collection includes the Apostolic Fathers and various NT apocrypha/pseudepigrapha, and Church Fathers both prior to and after the Council of Nicaea. The link (on the picture) will take you to the CCEL free version online.

fathers-of-the-church-seriesFathers of the Church Series (127 Vols.) (Catholic University of America Press). For the uber-ambitious (and insanely rich), check out this mega series of Church Fathers. It contains vast amounts of information and is available from Logos so that you don’t have to buy a new house (though you may have to take out a mortgage on the one you already own).

GNOSTIC TEXTS (Read Post Here)

the-nag-hammadi-library-in-english-4th-rev-edMalcolm L. Peel The Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. James M. Robinson, 4th rev. ed. (Leiden; New York: E. J. Brill, 1996). This collection of Gnostic texts comes with short introductions to each of the various books. There are other translations of the collection available, and some of the books can be found for free in the internet.


the-context-of-scriptureWilliam W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, The Context of Scripture in 3 Vols. (Leiden;  New York: Brill, 1997–). This is a fantastic starter collection of ANE literature. It also comes standard in many base packages of Logos Software. It contains many writings from the Egyptians, Hittites, Sumerians, and Akkadians.

k1754James Bennett Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed. with Supplement (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969). As the title suggests, it contains many ANE texts, but its introductions focus on their relationship to biblical material. It also comes with many Logos base packages.

downloadMark S. Smith and Simon B. Parker, Ugaritic Narrative Poetry: English Translations and Introductory Material (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1997). This has many of the epics found at Ugarit, including the Baal Cycle. The Baal Cycle can also be read online. I’m pretty sure that Smith’s two volume Baal Cycle commentary is the most expensive modern set of any literature ever made.

World Literature (Read Posts Here and Here)

section_under_construction This section is under construction.


Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Compiled Posts


For ease of browsing, here are links to all the posts on the series Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible:

  1. Introduction Part I (The Bible)
  2. Introduction Part II (Objections and Suggestions)
  3. The Apocrypha
  4. The Pseudepigrapha
  5. Other Second Temple Literature (Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus and Philo, Mishna, Targums)
  6. Apostolic Fathers
  7. Church Fathers
  8. Gnostic Texts
  9. Ancient Near Eastern Literature
  10. World Literature Part I, Part II

Appendix: Annotated Bibliography

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Ancient World Literature (Tenth Post, Part II)

Christian Living, Christian Education, Theology, The Church, Books


Structure and Common Grace

While the Bible is unlike anything else that has ever been written because of its authorship, inerrancy, and infallibility, the fact that it was written in a specific context both culturally and historically cannot be ignored. The very structure of the Bible itself can be understood in the framework of classical literary genres, thus displaying God’s common grace. This is our second thought for thinking about world literature.

While not necessarily able to identify them, most people are probably familiar with Greek epics, lyrics, tragedies, and comedies. The Bible is structured as an epic, made up of both tragedy and comedy. In very general terms, a tragedy can be understood as a story that begins high and ends low (e.g. Shakespeare’s Macbeth), while a comedy begins low and ends high (e.g. Roman-Masks_1Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice), most often with a wedding. Comedies also usually pick up in the middle of a story. An epic is typically broader in scope than both tragedy and comedy, and includes a journey (e.g. Homer’s Odyssey).

Perhaps you’re able to piece together where this is headed. The Old Testament is structured in the form of a tragedy. It begins high (creation) and ends low (rampant idolatry amongst the Israelites). The New Testament is structured in the form of a comedy. It begins low, in the middle of the story (450 years of silence from God), and ends high with a wedding (The great wedding of Christ and His people in the new heavens and new earth). Together, the Old and the New Testament are structured as an epic, as the Lord takes us through the journey that unfolds from creation, through his covenantal arrangements, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the establishment of the Church, and the fulfillment of all things in the new heavens and new earth. Any literature that follows these patterns serve in their very genres as copies of God’s Great Story.

There’s also much insight to be gained from a reading of individual classic works when compared to the Bible. Is it possible that God used the influence of men like Plato in his writing—as a pagan philosopher—to prepare the Hellenized world for the coming of the Christ and the announcement of the gospel? Consider the following dialogue and how it relates to Scripture:

 “Then is that city best governed which is most like a single human being? For example, when one of us wounds a finger, presumably the entire community—that community tying the body together with the soul in a single arrangement under the ruler within it—is aware of the fact, and all of it is in pain as a whole along with the afflicted part; and it is in this sense we say that this human being has a pain in his finger. And does the same argument hold for any other part of a human being, both when it is afflicted by pain and when eased by pleasure?

Yes, it does,” he said. “And, as to what you ask, the city with the best regime is most like such a human being.

I suppose, then, that when one of its citizens suffers anything at all, either good or bad, such a city will most of all say that the affected part is its own, and all will share in the joy or the pain.

Sound familiar? This is from Plato’s Republic, written nearly 400 years prior to the New Testament. But, how about 1 Corinthians 12:14-26?

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 

Is it possible that the Apostle Paul used the language and ideas of Plato that were familiar to the people of his culture to describe the church? Could it be that Paul’s letter to the Romans was not only a theological treatise of positive Christian doctrine, but also a response to Plato’s Republic and the commonly accepted ideas about justice and redemption, based upon Greek philosophy?

A journey through the classics will expand a Christian’s horizons to help us have an even greater understanding of the context in which the Bible was written and the foundations of our faith were forged. By the common grace of God, He even used pagan philosophers to support His ends of introducing the greatest story ever told—the true myth of a great Savior who has come to rescue his people.

Stance (Attitude) and the Image of God

Another use can be reevaluating our stance and attitude towards unbelievers. Sometimes, I fear that too many Reformed Christians have as their root anthropological principle the fall and sin rather than the imago dei (image of God) in all humanity which is both logically and historically prior to sin. While helping us keep a good perspective on evil, doing this can also have certain detrimental, almost Fundamentalist ramifications which can cause us to retreat into our own castles rather than live in the world Jesus refused to take us out of. This is anything but a Reformed stance towards the world, at least historically speaking. Also, if sin and not the image is the most basic principle, then I have nothing to learn from an unbeliever except evil, and once I’m saved, the problem is only magnified. This in turn can cause me to take a personal stance towards them both in how I treat and in how I think about them as people and their contributions to society. By reading secular literature, I can more directly involve myself in the common humanity and echoes of truth that I share with them.

This gives me enough ability to read just about any ancient religious text–be it a Buddhist tract on ethics or law (demonstrating that we all have the law written on our hearts), or a Hindu text (that reflects the biblical worldview of the supernatural in a perverted way), or a piece of philosophical utopianism like the Communist Manifesto or Critique of Pure Reason—both to learn and to evaluate biblically the good and the bad. Our Faith is not diminished by challenges to it, but only increases in wonder in the face of them.

The wonder is really threefold. First, image bearers are still able to see truth—although they suppress it in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18ff). The image is not destroyed. They know the law and use reason and cannot help but talk about and use both in an almost infinite variety of ways. Second, the Gospel was revealed to a specific group of people in time giving those people the only news that can actually save it from itself. Only Scripture reveals the Good News that saves. Third, this Gospel is news that is to be proclaimed to all humanity, because Jesus came to be the Savior of the world. In reading their works, we can easily see points of contact and the many needs in which salvation is so important for us all. This in turn can help us in our attitudes towards others, knowing that we and they are alike in sin, in the image, and in our need for salvation.

Reading their writings and understanding their thought can then be used to soften our hearts against them as well as being used as points of contact in much the same way that Don Richardson used the story of the Peace Child as a point of contact to bring the gospel to an otherwise radically blinded group of pagans in Western New Guinea. We do not need to be afraid of other religions or philosophies or outlooks on life. Nor does reading and learning about them need to lead us into skepticism and unbelief. Frankly, those are stances that people bring to the literature, rather than conclude after starting with some kind of neutral stance. Using pagan literature to justify unbelief rather than seeing that the unbelief was there prior is just a way to mask the real problem.

Soul Cultivation

A final application of reading classical world literature is the cultivation of our own souls. Gene Veith, speaking about Classical Education writes, “The word ‘liberal’ [as in Liberal Arts] derives from the Latin libera, meaning freedom. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, a liberal education was necessary for a man to be free. Slaves would receive vocational training, but free citizens required an education that enlarged the mind and cultivated the soul. Classical education aimed at the apprehension of the true, the good, and the beautiful. The ancientsClassical-Ed_zpsa5f60996 believed that cultivation of virtue, knowledge of the world and of human nature, active citizenship, and practical action required an education with this purpose.[1]

Sure, Classical Education was created by Greeks, but these people also believed in the cultivation of moral virtues. As with our own Founding Fathers, they cultivated these virtues not by indoctrinating –isms into people’s minds through public education, but by giving citizens the objective tools to think for themselves. The –isms that are dominating our education today are, in our opinion, creating more vices than virtues. We as a society and as the Church are increasingly held in captivity to philosophies that we don’t even know how to communicate, let alone combat. So we need to begin with our minds, learning to think critically (not being critical, but evaluating the good, the bad, and the ugly).

As one example, especially in light of the irony from the ancient world, education today has become almost wholly pragmatic (i.e. you go to school to get a job), meaning that they Greeks would have viewed us as people who willingly put themselves under slavery. If this is so, then we need to be willing to read the great Pragmatists such as Dewey and James as well as their critiques so that we can get out from under that slavery and into the freedom that the Liberal Arts can bring us (I speak in a human, not a spiritually way, as slavery to the devil only stops when a person believes the gospel).

After the mind, it is our very souls that need cultivation as well. Once our stance towards unbelievers is oriented properly (i.e. image bearers who possess truth, but who suppress it in unrighteousness), then we will find ourselves able to learn about truth (“all truth is God’s truth”) that we ourselves may not be thinking about. Thus, we can read the classics and come to see the beauty that is a Robert Frost poem, the brilliance that is Mark Twain’s critique of slavery in Huckleberry Finn, the truth that resides in Dante’s vision of the Roman Church, or the humor that is portrayed in Wuthering Heights (I can’t believe I just said that last one). In doing this, we find ourselves better people, freer citizens, more open and honest and willing to deal in the world, without having to be “of” it.

I hope you have enjoyed this series, and look in the coming week or so for a lengthy bibliography that we are working on that we hope will help you in your journey into the world of non-biblical literature as you now have the tools to think about it biblically.

(by: Doug Van Dorn, Nick Kennicott)

[1] Gene Edward Veith, Jr. and Andrew Kern, Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America (Washington D.C.: Capital Research Center, 2001), 11.

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Ancient World Literature (Tenth Post, Part I)

Christian Living, Christian Education, Theology, Books

This post will be a two-parter and the last in our series on non-biblical literature and the Bible (other than a bibliography we are developing to supplement the material). In it, we want to look at how a Christian can read and think about literature that is found all over the world, in both ancient and more recent times. We will tackle this from several different perspectives, though this doesn’t come close to exhausting the possibilities.

Similarities and Apologetics

Indulge me for a moment and check this out. I think you will find it fascinating:

THIS IS THE ACCOUNT of when all is still silent and placid. All is silent and calm. Hushed and empty is the womb of the sky.

THESE, then, are the first words, the first speech. There is not yet one person, one animal, bird, fish, crab, tree, rock, hollow, canyon, meadow, or forest. All alone the sky exists. The face of the earth has not yet appeared. Alone lies the expanse of the sea, along with the womb of the sky. There is not yet anything gathered together. All is at rest. Nothing stirs. All is languid, at rest in the sky. There is not yet anything standing erect. Only the expanse of the water, only the tranquil sea lies alone. There is not yet anything that might exist. All lies placid and silent in the darkness, in the night.

All alone are the Framer and the Shaper, Sovereign and Quetzal Serpent, They Who Have Borne Children and They Who Have Begotten Sons. Luminous they are in the water, wrapped in quetzal feathers and cotinga feathers. Thus they are called Quetzal Serpent. In their essence, they are great sages, great possessors of knowledge. Thus surely there is the sky. There is also Heart of Sky, which is said to be the name of the god.

THEN came his word. Heart of Sky arrived here with Sovereign and Quetzal Serpent in the darkness, in the night. He spoke with Sovereign and Quetzal Serpent. They talked together then. They thought and they pondered. They reached an accord, bringing together their words and their thoughts. Then they gave birth, heartening one another. Beneath the light, they gave birth to humanity. Then they arranged for the germination and creation of the trees and the bushes, the germination of all life and creation, in the darkness and in the night, by Heart of Sky, who is called Huracan.

First is Thunderbolt Huracan, second is Youngest Thunderbolt, and third is Sudden Thunderbolt. These three together are Heart of Sky. Then they came together with Sovereign and Quetzal Serpent. Together they conceived light and life: “How shall it be sown? When shall there be a dawn for anyone? Who shall be provider? Who shall be a sustainer?”

“Then be it so. You are conceived. May the water be taken away, emptied out, so that the plate of the earth may be created—may it be gathered and become level. Then may it be sown; then

Mayan Creation Story

Mayan Creation Story

may dawn the sky and the earth. There can be no worship, no reverence given by what we have framed and what we have shaped, until humanity has been created, until people have been made,” they said.

Then the earth was created by them. Merely their word brought about the creation of it. In order to create the earth, they said, “Earth,” and immediately it was created. Just like a cloud, like a midst, was the creation and formation of it.

Then they called forth the mountains from the water. Straightaway the great mountains came to be. It was merely their spirit essence, their miraculous power, that brought about the conception of the mountains and the valleys. Straightaway were created cypress groves and pine forests to cover the face of the earth.

Thus Quetzal Serpent rejoiced: “It is good that you have come, Heart of Sky—you, Huracan, and you as well, Youngest Thunderbolt and Sudden Thunderbolt. That which we have framed and shaped shall turn out well,” they said.[1]

From here, the story explains how animals were created after the land. The animals were given homes and were treated well by the gods. So the gods expected something in return. They expected worship, but the animals were only able to squawk and chatter and roar, because they were animals. And “this was not good.” After destroying these animals, the gods created men out of mud, “But this was not good” either. For, the mud-men came undone and crumbled. This “mistake” caused the gods to topple the mud-men. Next, they tried making men out of wood, but they forgot to make them with souls and minds, and thus they could not worship either, so the gods beat and disfigured them and destroyed them in a great flood. The final attempt (so far) was to make men out of sacred corn. As of today, the gods have not yet destroyed them.

The similarities (and differences) between this story and the one told in Genesis are stunning, especially considering that it comes from a place that is over 7,000 miles, two continents, and an ocean away from Jerusalem. This is from the Popol Vuh codex, one of only a few Mayan (yes, I said Mayan) writings to escape burning at the torches of the Roman Church.



From the Popol Vuh to perhaps the opposite end of the historical spectrum in something like the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarök–the end of all things in the Norse sagas called the Eddas (poetic and prose)–people otherwise completely unassociated with the world of the Bible (except remotely through Noah) have remarkably parallel stories that tell of origins and endings of the world. This is something altogether different from what we saw in the post on ANE literature, which the biblical authors sometimes incorporated into their own polemics.

While some use these similarities to discount the Scripture, this is anything but a necessary conclusion. Curiously, it was these similarities combined with the fact that the Bible purports to tell the demonstrable history of a God-man rising from the dead that was the final nail in C. S. Lewis’ atheistic coffin.[2] He says we should expect the similarities, while also expecting to see the fullness or finality come to pass in reality, which is exactly what Scripture tells us. In this way, read and understood in the context of Scripture illuminating the truth, This type of literature can actually be used as a kind of apologetic to help people understand the truth, much like Paul does when quoting Greek poets to the Athenians.[3] You have heard of the unknown God. Now, let me tell you about him…

In Part 2 of this post, Nick will add some thoughts as together we give a few more ideas on reading world literature and wrap up the series.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

[1] Allen J. Christenson, Popol Vuh: Sacred Book of the Quiché Maya People (Mesoweb Publications, 2003), 58-62.  Available online:

[2] See the important and fascinating essay by C. S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?” republished by Samizdat University Press, 2014., last accessed 3-23-2015.

[3] Thanks to Kathy in my church for sending me this timely link. Daniel Foucachon, “Plundering the Egyptians,” Classical Conversations: Classical Christian Community,, last accessed 2-24-2015.

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Ancient Near Eastern Literature (Ninth Post)

Worship, Christian Education, Theology, Church History, Culture, Books, Christ in the Old Testament, Scripture

My last two posts are increasingly so vast in scope that it is in some ways pointless to even attempt what I’m going to do here. Nevertheless, I want to try.

For as long as biblical studies have been done (dating back to at least Philo in the first century), Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature has been used to illumine the Bible. Indeed, it is beyond question that the OT authors themselves read and employed ANE literature for their own polemical purposes (usually to prove that Yahweh, rather than some usurping deity, is God). For example, Daniel 7 has so many parallels with the Baal Cycle that it is impossible that it is coincidental. What Daniel is doing is simultaneously mocking Baal while glorifying the True God and his only begotten son (see chart). Understanding this backdrop adds multiple rich layers to our understanding of the passage, layers that profoundly enrich our knowledge of Jesus Christ (in the chart, note how the “son of man” parallels “Baal” in the polemic), who is the focus and point of all the Scripture.

Daniel 7 and Baal

Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

In modern times, the 19th and 20th centuries saw several amazing discoveries of ANE literature that brought to the table texts not available to the Fathers, the Medievals, or the Reformers (we have already seen the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library). Two other incredible discoveries of the last 200 years must be included in this post. The first discovery was made late in 1849 in ancient Nineveh in the Royal Palace of king Sennacherib (705–681 BC), with whom Hezekiah had dealings (cf. Isa 36:1ff). Three years later, a vast collection–thousands of clay tablets and fragments—were unearthed just a few yards away. This became known as the now famous Library of Ashurbanipal (he is called “the great and honorable Osnappar” or “Asenappar” in Ezra 4:10). The find contained myriads of texts and genres collected by the great king in the 7th century B.C., but telling about history for more than a thousand years before that. The find included the Babylonian creation story the Enuma Elish and their Flood story the Epic of Gilgamesh, both of which share much in common with the biblical stories (as well as much that is not in common).

Mt Aqraa (ancient Mt. Saphon) towering over the ruins of Ugarit.

Mt Aqraa (ancient Mt. Saphon) towering over the ruins of Ugarit.

The other discovery took place in 1929 in a dig in the beautiful Syrian port city on the Mediterranean call Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), some 26 miles south of the astounding Mt. Zaphon (Isa 14:13 NRS), which rises over a mile straight out of the Great Sea. Zaphon was Baal’s mountain, and the tablets at Ugarit provided for the first time in over 3,000 years ancient stories of Baal, El, and other religious deities that are so intimately tied to the OT. In fact, the Scripture calls God “El” many times. As cited in the first post of this series, Dr. Michael Heiser has written an excellent article showing why Ugarit is so important to biblical studies.

ANE Literature is basically divided into five geographical categories:

Ugarit (see above).

Hittite. The Hittites empire was established in Anatolia around 1600 BC. It reached its height during the mid-14th century B.C., when it included most of Asia Minor as well as parts of the northern Levant (today’s western Syria, Jordan, and Israel). These people are mentioned often in the early parts of the Old Testament.

Akkadian (see above). The Akkadian Empire reached father east and much longer back in time than the Hittites, reaching its peak in the 24th and 22nd centuries B.C.

Sumerian. Sumer is one of the most ancient civilizations known, reaching much of modern-day southern Iraq, as far as 3,500, 4,000, perhaps even 5,000 B.C. The Dynastic period begins c. 2900 B.C. and includes such legendary figures as Gilgamesh—who is supposed to have reigned shortly before the historic record opens c. 2700 BCE.

Egyptian. Egypt is well known to most people. Its empire is world famous, especially because of its colossus pyramids and sphinx that still stand to this day.

The kinds of literature we have from these places include Canonical Texts (including myths, prayers, rituals, incantations, epics, historiography, biography, oracles, proverbs, wisdom, and instructions), Monumental Inscriptions (royal inscriptions, mortuary inscriptions, building and dedication inscriptions, temple hymns), and Archival Documents (letters, contracts, accounts, court cases, wills). As you can see from this list, the literature is vast. There is much here to learn for the eager person that is interested.

Again, because there is a certain hostility that conservative Christians have towards ANE literature, a final word should be said. If the reader keeps in mind that Scripture is God’s word, then it is quite easy to read the other writings of the ANE without feeling like you are compromising something essential. Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and even Moses didn’t feel like they were. So why should I? Rather, they understood that the nations’ beliefs about anything from the gods to morality were rooted in truth, but had become badly distorted to the point of spiritual darkness and enslavment. Holy Scripture sometimes uses their own material against the nations, subverting their narratives, and replacing them with truth that reveals the glory and goodness of the God of gods and his only begotten Son.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Gnostic Texts (Eighth Post)

Books, Christian Education, Christian Living, Church History, The Church

On my Facebook feed the other day, someone wrote, “CNN’s series on Jesus showed their virulent, anti-Christian agenda. Last night the second episode on this series aired. The title says it all, ‘The Judas Gospel.’ This sole ‘discovery’ paints Judas as a misunderstood disciple, the closest disciple to Christ, the sole recipient of ‘mysterious, secret knowledge’ from Jesus, and part of Christ’s plan in the crucifixion … The Bible was rarely mentioned and left what the Bible Georgiosaid about Judas and Christ nearly mute or denied by this ‘new’ gospel. That wasn’t enough, this work of Satan also depicted all the disciples (except Judas) as drunkards, degenerates and guilty of the most degenerate, evil actions.

What CNN, The History Channel (History should be in quotes) and most of their scholars, The Da Vinci Code and most who are into the Alternative History movement, Oprah (Gnostic-Lite), and a host of others are doing is not actually new. Neither are the sources they are shouting from the rooftops are “True Christianity.” The Gospel of Thomas? The Gospel of Judas? Ancient heretical Gnosticism. In fact, all of this is old, tired stuff that the Church Fathers like Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement, Hippolytus, and Origen were refuting in the 2nd – 3rd centuries (which makes a good contemporary and practical reason to delve into the Fathers). In this post I want to focus on ancient Gnostic literature.

A good definition of Gnosticism is, “A diverse religious and theosophical movement of the first three centuries A.D. The name derives from the means of salvation: the Gnostic is saved through possessing a special knowledge (Gk.. gnṓsis). Gnosticism best refers to the organized expressions of the second and third centuries. Although scholars sometimes apply the term to Gnostic tendencies of the first century, evidence for a pre-Christian Gnostic movement isnag-hammadi inconclusive.[1] Most people think Gnosticism owes its origins purely to Greek (Platonic) philosophy. In actuality, it was an eclectic mix of that plus Persian religion (especially Zoroastrianism) and, perhaps especially, Judaism.

There were many Gnostic books floating around in the early centuries of Christianity. A whole pile of them were discovered in Egypt in a place called Nag Hammadi, 280 miles south of Cairo. In December of 1945, several local farmers found a sealed jar containing thirteen different codices containing 52 texts, most of which were Gnostic. These date back to the second and third centurys A.D. These tractates include (among many others):

  • The Prayer of the Apostle Paul
  • The Gospel of Truth
  • The Treatise on the Resurrection
  • The Hypostasis of the Archons
  • On the Origin of the World
  • Exegesis of the Soul
  • Plato’s Republic
  • The Testimony of Truth
  • The Gospel of Mary
  • The Teachings of Silvanus
  • and the now infamous Gospel of Thomas

As you can tell just from the names alone, the Gnostics were fascinated with philosophy, the New Testament, and speculating about just about anything, so long as it gets ratings (which never means orthodox theology). Sounds pretty much like a History Channel TV show to me!

So why include post like this here? Obviously, it isn’t to promote them as orthodox Christianity. Far from it. But as Peter Jones points out in The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back (a great book title if ever there was one), the American religion is increasingly and rapidly returning to the ancient heresies of Gnosticism. There is a concerted effort on many levels to promote Gnosticism as if it were Christianity. Parts of this theology have gone mainstream and most people today don’t know the difference. Why, just yesterday I was in a conversation with someone wanting me to do a radio show on Giants. I found out his program was Gnostic, and when I asked him about it he replied, “I promote Gnosticism and cover many subjects. But I’m also a Christian of the Catholic faith.” How people can live with such contradiction is beyond me. Can you? Do you?

Know your Scripture well. Then read the Nag Hammadi Library and find out just how completely different from Christianity it actually is, despite what Dan Brown and others try to sell you. A good place to start might be the Gospel of Thomas (which isn’t a Gospel at all, but is actually a series of 114 proverbial sayings) which ends with Peter saying, “‘Mary should leave us, for females are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said: ‘Look, I will lead her that I may make her male, in order that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Saying 114). Then consider such a saying in light of contemporary culture and sexuality and the “progressive” thought it thinks it has. That which is progressive is actually regressive and profoundly enslaving of true freedom which only comes in the real Christ of actual history.[2]

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

[1] Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 421.

[2] One of the best introductory lecture series I’ve ever heard on Gnosticism was done by Dr. Michael Heiser here: This is the full multi-hour presentation, but the classes (there are five or six of them here) can also be watched individually as well. Just search “Heiser” and “Gnosticism” under videos on Google.


Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Church Fathers (Seventh Post)

Books, Christian Education, Christian Living, Church History, Discipleship, In Praise of Old Guys, The Church, Theology

When the Reformation happened, it took place upon the shoulders of giants. No, not literal giants, as Joshua and David had killed most of them. I’m talking about the Church Fathers. As just one example, a Logos search of the two volume McNeill edition of Calvin’s Institutes reveals 7 results for Justin Martyr, 18 for Irenaeus, 57 for Tertullian, 20 for Clement, 31 for Origen, 78 for Cyprian, 79 for Bernard, 89 for Chrysostom, 8 for Basil, 74 for Jerome, 14 for Eusebius, 15 for Cyril, 13 for Athanasius, and a whopping 779 for Augustine. This demonstrates that Calvin was trying to “reform” the church, not create a brand new one.

The idea is very simple. There is, as Jude says, a “Faith … once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The Church Fathers are those men–those bishops, pastors, and elders who faithfully passed down this Faith in the days of the early church. Therefore, to see if our own ideas line up with orthodoxy, we have to know what the Church Fathers believed and taught (of course, I’m not saying they all agreed on everything, or that some of them didn’t hold to unusual or even heretical doctrines on secondary issues, but on the essentials, these are the men who fought the good fight of truth and faithfully held firm to the Apostolic teaching).

FathersThis post will introduce and briefly sketch a several of the most important Church Fathers. I’ll take the famous 38 Volume Church Father’s set printed in the 19th century and still in publication to this day as my outline for this entry. This set divides the Fathers into two basic categories: Ante-Nicene Fathers are those who lived prior to the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D). They include (but are not limited to):

  • Vol. 1The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus
  • Vol. 2 – Tatian, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria
  • Vol. 3 – Tertullian
  • Vol. 4 – Origen
  • Vol. 5 – Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian
  • Vol. 6 – Dionysius, Julius Africanus
  • Vol. 7 – Lactantius, Victorinus, Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Early Liturgies
  • Vol. 8 – Apocrypha of New Testament
  • Vol. 9 – New Testament Pseudepigrapha

Then there are Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers who go up until around the middle of the 8th century. These include:

  • Second Set – Augustine and Chrysostom
  • Third Set –  Basil, Jerome, Hilary, Eusebius, Cyril, Ambrose, the Ecumenical Councils, and many more.

These can be further subdivided into three to five categories which show the ethnic, geographical, and temporal diversity of the groups:

  • Apostolic Fathers
  • Greek Fathers: Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Athanasius, Cappadocian Fathers, John Chrysostom, and Cyril.
  • Latin Fathers: Tertullian, Cyprian, Hilary, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory.
  • Syriac Fathers: Aphrahat, Ephrem, Isaac of Antioch, Isaac of Nineveh
  • Desert Fathers.

The following brief biographies come from Introduction and Biographical Information, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005). I put there here as much to provide a go-to resource as to acquaint you with these amazing men. The first set are Ante-Nicene Fathers:

  • Justin Martyr (c. 100/110–165; fl. c. 148–161). Palestinian philosopher who was converted to Christianity, “the only sure and worthy philosophy.” He traveled to Rome where he wrote several apologies against both pagans and Jews, combining Greek philosophy and Christian theology; he was eventually martyred.
  • Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 135–c. 202). Bishop of Lyons who published the most famous and influential refutation of Gnostic thought.
  • Athenagoras (fl. 176–180). Early Christian philosopher and apologist from Athens, whose only authenticated writing, A Plea Regarding Christians, is addressed to the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, and defends Christians from the common accusations of atheism, incest and cannibalism.
  • Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215). A highly educated Christian convert from paganism, head of the catechetical school in Alexandria and pioneer of Christian scholarship. His major works, Protrepticus, Paedagogus and the Stromata, bring Christian doctrine face to face with the ideas and achievements of his time.
  • Tertullian of Carthage (c. 155/160–225/250; fl. c. 197–222). Brilliant Carthaginian apologist and polemicist who laid the foundations of Christology and trinitarian orthodoxy in the West, though he himself was later estranged from the catholic tradition due to its laxity.
  • Origen of Alexandria (b. 185; fl. c. 200–254). Influential exegete and systematic theologian. He was condemned (perhaps unfairly) for maintaining the preexistence of souls while purportedly denying the resurrection of the body. His extensive works of exegesis focus on the spiritual meaning of the text.
  • Hippolytus (fl. 222–245). Recent scholarship places Hippolytus in a Palestinian context, personally familiar with Origen. Though he is known chiefly for The Refutation of All Heresies, he was primarily a commentator on Scripture (especially the Old Testament) employing typological exegesis.
  • Cyprian of Carthage (fl. 248–258). Martyred bishop of Carthage who maintained that those baptized by schismatics and heretics had no share in the blessings of the church.
  • Novatian of Rome (fl. 235–258). Roman theologian, otherwise orthodox, who formed a schismatic church after failing to become pope. His treatise on the Trinity states the classic Western doctrine.
  • Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260/263–340). Bishop of Caesarea, partisan of the Emperor Constantine and first historian of the Christian church. He argued that the truth of the gospel had been foreshadowed in pagan writings but had to defend his own doctrine against suspicion of Arian sympathies.
  • Dionysius of Alexandria (d. c. 264). Bishop of Alexandria and student of Origen. Dionysius actively engaged in the theological disputes of his day, opposed Sabellianism, defended himself against accusations of tritheism and wrote the earliest extant Christian refutation of Epicureanism. His writings have survived mainly in extracts preserved by other early Christian authors.
  • Julius Africanus (c. 160–c. 240). First Christian chronographer who influenced later historians such as Eusebius. Born in Jerusalem, he was charged with organizing a library in the Pantheon at Rome. He was acquainted with Origen during the time he studied in Alexandria and corresponded with him. He died in Palestine.
  • Lactantius (c. 260–c. 330). Christian apologist removed from his post as teacher of rhetoric at Nicomedia upon his conversion to Christianity. He was tutor to the son of Constantine and author of The Divine Institutes.
  • Victorinus of Petovium (d. c. 304). Latin biblical exegete. With multiple works attributed to him, his sole surviving work is the Commentary on the Apocalypse and perhaps some fragments from Commentary on Matthew. Victorinus expressed strong millenarianism in his writing, though his was less materialistic than the millenarianism of Papias or Irenaeus. In his allegorical approach he could be called a spiritual disciple of Origen. Victorinus died during the first year of Diocletian’s persecution, probably in 304.

The Second list are Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers:

  • Ephrem the Syrian (b. c. 306; fl. 363–373). Syrian writer of commentaries and devotional hymns which are sometimes regarded as the greatest specimens of Christian poetry prior to Dante.
  • Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315–367). Bishop of Poitiers and called the “Athanasius of the West” because of his defense (against the Arians) of the common nature of Father and Son.
  • Basil the Great (b. c. 330; fl. 357–379). One of the Cappadocian fathers, bishop of Caesarea and champion of the teaching on the Trinity propounded at Nicaea in 325. He was a great administrator and founded a monastic rule.
  • John Chrysostom (344/354–407; fl. 386–407). Bishop of Constantinople who was noted for his orthodoxy, his eloquence and his attacks on Christian laxity in high places.
  • Jerome (c. 347–420). Gifted exegete and exponent of a classical Latin style, now best known as the translator of the Latin Vulgate. He defended the perpetual virginity of Mary, attacked Origen and Pelagius and supported extreme ascetic practices.
  • Augustine of Hippo (354–430). Bishop of Hippo and a voluminous writer on philosophical, exegetical, theological and ecclesiological topics. He formulated the Western doctrines of predestination and original sin in his writings against the Pelagians.
  • Cyril of Alexandria (375–444; fl. 412–444). Patriarch of Alexandria whose extensive exegesis, characterized especially by a strong espousal of the unity of Christ, led to the condemnation of Nestorius in 431.
  • Obviously, many more names could be added to both lists.

Christianity is an historic faith. We are not supposed to be reinventing the wheel all the time. In fact, that is the definition of heresy, for the word “heresy” comes from a word meaning, “to choose.” Heretics choose what they want to believe, regardless of 2,000 years of church history. Rooting ourselves in the Fathers who handed down the Faith once for all entrusted to the Saints through their worship and theology, while battling unbelieving and heretical thought, is important and invaluable.

My suggestion in getting started here is that you pick two or three of those in this list that interest you, do a little more research on them, pick one, scrap all that and start with Justin! I only say that because he’s my favorite. But seriously, pick one and then go for it. Then, before you know it, you’ll be an expert and will surely desire to read even more.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: The Apostolic Fathers (Sixth Post)

Books, Christian Education, Christian Living, Church History, Devotional, Discipleship, The Church

My Junior year of college I was approached by Dr. Michael Holmes to be his Teacher’s Assistant. You can’t pass an opportunity like that up, even if you have no idea why he would chose you. So I took the job. That year, perhaps the best flat-out teacher I ever had was working on his now standard apostolic fathersThe Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. The work is now several editions newer, but it still retains the same basic set of books.

Who were the Apostolic Fathers? As Holmes puts it, “The term ‘Apostolic Fathers’ is traditionally used to designate the collection of the earliest extant Christian writings outside the New Testament. These documents are a primary resource for the study of early Christianity, especially the post apostolic period (ca. AD 70-150). They provide significant and often unparalleled glimpses of and insights into the life of Christians and the Christian movement during a critical transitional stage in its history.[1] While it is possible, perhaps even probable that the OT Pseudepigrapha contains Christian redaction (editing) from this era, the Apostolic Fathers are complete books written by the very earliest Christians apart from the Apostles themselves.

The collection usually contains a bit over a dozen books/letters. These consist of:

1 Clement (c 96), 2 Clement (c100?). Written by Clement of Rome (d. 99 AD, Clement served as Bishop of the church at Rome from 92-99 AD), 1 Clement is a sermon, twice as long as Hebrews. It contains some of the very earliest thinking on how to interpret the OT, with Christ and typology being at the very forefront of his thought. It is an amazing little letter.

Eight letters of Ignatius (c35–110). This is not the famous Ignatius of Loyola (1491 – 1556) who founded the Society of the Jesuits, but a remarkable (and third) Bishop of Antioch who wrote these letters on the way to die in a Roman Colosseum at the hands of Emperor Trajan. Some of these were written to churches that Paul wrote to (Rome, Philippians, Ephesians) and that John wrote to (Philadelphia, Smyrna).

Martyrdom of Polycarp. This book is both a letter and a martyr act which contains the account of Polycarp of Smyrna (c.69–ca. 155). Irenaeus famously says, “Polycarp also was not only instructed by the apostles, and conversed with many who had seen the Lord, but was also appointed bishop by apostles in Asia and in the church in Smyrna” (against Heresies 3.3.4), Eusebius adds that Irenaeus had, as a boy, listened to “the accounts which (Polycarp) gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, V. 20).

Didache. Written as early as AD 50 to the early 2nd century, this contains some of the earliest Christian instruction. If it really goes back to 50 AD, it would be far and away the oldest of all the Apostolic Fathers, and one of the very earliest of any Christian writing, including the books of the NT.

The Shepherd of Hermas (2nd century). Ah, the good Shepherd. This fascinating book contains five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables. It uses allegory (its allegory of Christian baptism is especially interesting, as it is clearly immersion), and pays special attention to the church, calling the faithful to repent of the sins that have harmed her.

Epistle to Diognetus, Fragments of Quadratus and Papias. Dating perhaps to 130 AD, the Epistle to Diognetus is one of the earliest works of Apologetics known. The other two are fragments. Papias (c. 70-163) is an important source for learning about the origin of some of the NT books.

I highly recommend these books, especially 1 Clement which is a personal favorite. It is one thing to read people talk about the Apostolic Fathers (secondary sources). But there is no substitute for knowing original sources first hand, especially sources so close to Christ himself. Ours is a religion rooted in real history, and the Apostolic Fathers get us as close to that history as we can get, outside of the Scripture itself.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

[1] Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 3.

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Other Second Temple Literature (Fifth Post)

Book Reviews, Books, Christian Living, Church History, Discipleship, Uncategorized

Second Temple (S.T.) literature is the entire diverse (and I mean diverse, as there is no such thing as one brand of theology that it contains) corpus of Jewish literature put down in writing between 538 B.C. – 70 A.D. It reflects the theology, history, hopes, and prayers of the Jewish people. It typically includes the OT Apocrypha, OT Pseudepigrapha which we have already looked at, but also Josephus and Philo, Dead Sea Scrolls, Mishna, and Targums which we will look at in this post. We should alsoSecond_Temple_view keep in mind that some OT books and many NT books were also written during this time as well.

With all there was to talk about in the previous posts, we have not had time to look at why this literature exists in the first place. But it is an important question. The Jews had been in captivity for 70 years, between roughly 605 – 535 B.C.  The second generation led by Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest returned to Judah to find their land and culture in ruins.  Jews in Babylon were now assimilating a new language, culture, and religion (like Zoroastrianism).  In Judea, Aramaic (now dominated; fewer and fewer people could read or understand Hebrew. Two hundred years later, everyone would be speaking Greek. Around 458 B.C., Ezra is sent by Artaxerxes I to Jerusalem to teach his people the Law of God. It is during this time that Ezra commissions fresh copies of the ancient books to be transcribed. Meanwhile, new revelations from the LORD were given to Ezra, Nehemiah, and later prophets like Haggai and Malachi.

Evangelicals are used to thinking of the years between Malachi and Matthew (roughly 450 B.C. – Christ) as the “silent years.” This phrase refers to inspired prophetic revelation, not to Jewish literary activity. In fact, during this time, the Jews were extremely busy putting down ancient oral tradition into writing for fear that if they did not, their entire history would be erased from memory. This serves as the most important reason that S.T. Literature exists. The second has to do with the Jewish need to try and understand their present circumstances in a theological way. This literature reflects the ability to think theologically about their circumstances, advancing one idea in such and such a book, and another idea in a different book.

Dead Sea Scrolls

Probably the most important discovery of the 20th century in terms of Christianity was the so called “Dead Sea Scrolls.” Discovered in 1947 in a series of caves near the Dead Sea in Israel, this treasure trove of literature opened up new vistas in our OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAunderstanding of life amidst one community of Jews in the two centuries just prior to Jesus Christ. They were a group of ascetics, dedicated to poverty, ritual immersions, and priestly rule of law. For a working list of the Dead Sea Scrolls see the Table at the end of this post. Among the most important finds at Qumran were copies of the Scripture that dated back 1,000 years prior to our formerly earliest copies of the OT. You can actually purchase a definitive English version of the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (see bibliography in the last post of this series).

Philo and Josephus

Josephus is the more famous of these two historian/theologians. A contemporary of Peter and Paul, “He was a Jewish priest at the time of the Jewish Revolt of A.D. 66.  He was captured by the Romans, imprisoned, set free and then retired to Rome where he wrote a history of the Jewish Revolt called the Jewish War.  Later he wrote Antiquities as a history of the Jews.[1] Philo of Alexandria was a contemporary of Jesus (25 B.C. – c. 50 A.D.). He was a hellenistic Jewish philosopher living in Egypt and had an influence on several Church Fathers, especially those of the more allegorical bent of interpretation.


There are many reasons to read these two men. Perhaps the most fascinating is that, each in his own way, they bear witness to Jesus Christ. Josephus actually knew about Jesus of Nazareth and wrote about him (Antiquities 18.63-64). Philo, who does not seem to have been acquainted with Jesus the man, certainly writes about the person Jesus claimed to be: the Logos. Reading Philo on this is often just like reading the Gospel of John.[2] Philo is reflecting here a theology called “Two Powers” by the Rabbis that was common in a lot of Second Temple literature. Two Powers theology believed in only one God, but also a Second Figure that seemed to be both God and yet something or someone other than God, and this becomes a major channel through which NT Christology is developed. For this reason alone I recommend this material is highly.


Mishna is the first major redaction (a form of editing multiple sources into a single work) of Jewish oral tradition. Though not finished until sometime before the death of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (217 A.D.), its contents certainly fit the time frame of the NT and even prior to that. Mishna differs from midrash, in that the latter compiles thoughts in a biblical order, while the former compiles them theologically or thematically. There are six “orders” of Mishna:

  • Zera’im (“Seeds”), dealing with prayer and blessings, tithes and agricultural laws (11 tractates)
  • Mo’ed (“Festival”), pertaining to the laws of the Sabbath and the Festivals (12 tractates)
  • Nashim (“Women”), concerning marriage and divorce, some forms of oaths and the laws of the nazirite (7 tractates)
  • Nezikin (“Damages”), dealing with civil and criminal law, the functioning of the courts and oaths (10 tractates)
  • Kodashim (“Holy things”), regarding sacrificial rites, the temple and the dietary laws (11 tractates)
  • Tohorot (“Purities”), pertaining to the laws of purity and impurity, including the impurity of the dead, the laws of food purity and bodily purity (12 tractates).

Along with the later (and much larger) collections of Talmud (but to a greater degree than Talmud), Mishna helps us to better understand the thinking of Jews and their Scripture at the time of the NT. You want greater insight into Jesus’ dealing with the Pharisees? You may just find it in the Mishna.


Targums are completely fascinating and some of my favorite ancient literature to read, because Targums are actually paraphrases of Holy Scripture itself. I liken to them in some ways to modern translations of the Bible such as The Message or The Living Bible. Targums were written in Aramaic (a cousin language to Hebrew) for Aramaic speaking Jews before, during, and shortly after the close of the NT. They were often read in the synagogues.

To a greater or lesser degree, depending up on the particular Targum, they follow the ancient Jewish practice—a practice seen in the NT itself—of midrash. You can liken midrash to what is supposed to be a main job description of a pastor. First, he exegetes a text, then it delivers a homily/sermon. Midrash often fills in gaps that are in the Scripture. Thus, in some of the more liberal Targums, you will find short stories that explain some kind of bewildering passage. These stories were rooted in ancient Jewish oral tradition. Being that I have a kind of hobby of writing about biblical giants, I thought I would give you an example. Here is Gen 14:13 from Targum Pseudo-Jonathan:

And Og came, who had been spared from the giants that died in the deluge, and had ridden protected upon the top of the ark, and sustained with food by Noah; not being spared through high righteousness, but that the inhabitants of the world might see the power of the Lord, and say, Were there not giants who in the first times rebelled against the Lord of the world, and perished from the earth? But when these kings made war, behold, Og, who was with them, said in his heart, I will go and show Abram concerning Lot, who is led captive, that he may come and deliver him from the hands of the kings into whose hands he has been delivered. And he arose and came, upon the eve of the day of the Pascha, and found him making the unleavened cakes. Then showed he to Abram the Hebrew, who dwelt in the valleys of Mamre Amoraah, brother of Eshkol and brother of Aner, who were men of covenant with Abram. (Gen 14:13 PJE, purple is the actual biblical text, italics is the midrash)

There are several Targums, representing many books of the OT. Some books of the Bible have multiple Targums preserved. For example, Genesis-Deuteronomy have versions of the fairly conservative Onkelos Targum which deviates from the biblical text much than the more expansive Neofiti and Pseudo-Jonathan Targums. A final note: Many OT books have ancient Jewish commentaries called Rabbahs (Genesis Rabbah, Exodus Rabbah, etc. These date a little later than the Targums, are hard to get full copies of in English, but a few can be found online). Pastors such as John Gill often made use of these in his commentaries.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)


Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

[1] Matt Slick, “Regarding the quotes from the historian Josephus about Jesus,” CARM at, last accessed 3-9-2015.

[2] For a brief snippet on Philo and the Logos see:

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Pseudepigrapha (Fourth Post)

Books, Christian Education, Church History, Discipleship, Scripture, Uncategorized

“Pseudo-who-grapha? Oh boy, what is this post going to be about? First, you suggest I read a bunch of Catholic books (that aren’t really Catholic), now you want me to read gibberish?”

As we continue our tour of ancient literature, we come a collection of books called “pseudepigrapha” by modern scholars. As the etymology implies, pseudepigrapha are books outside of the canon of Scripture that have falsely (pseudes, from which we get words like pseudonym) attributed names as the author (epigraphē). These include books like “1 Enoch,” or “Testament of Judah,” or “Treatise or Shem,” and so on. Most of these books are published only in collections of Pseudepigrapha, though a few can be found in the Apocrypha (such as Baruch) and even some canons of the Bible (such as the Ethiopian church which includes 1 Enoch).[1]

Several years ago I set out to read Charlesworth’s now classic two volume collection of somewhere around seventy pseudepigraphal books. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. In all honesty, it was a life changer. It expanded my view of thecharlesworth ancient world while completely fascinating me in the process. Like the Apocrypha, there are various genres of pseudepigrapha. There are apocalypses (1, 2, 3 Enoch, Sibylline Oracles, Apocalypses of Adam, Abraham, Elijah, Daniel, and Ezra, etc). This is my personal favorite genre. There are what are called “Testaments.” These are books that follow a similar pattern to the deathbed scene Jacob at the end of Genesis where the patriarch remembers his past and gives blessings or curses to his descendants. Each of Jacob’s twelve sons has his own Testament in the Pseudepigrapha, as do Job, Moses, Solomon, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There are romance novels like Joseph and Aseneth (a personal favorite of mine), history books like Jubilees (a book that is 80% Genesis), The Lives of the Prophets (an account of the deaths of many OT prophets), Letter of Aristeas (a tale of how the Septuagint came to be written), and many more. There are wisdom and philosophical books including one of the oldest of these books called Ahiqar, a seventh century B.C. collection of proverbs, and 3 and 4 Maccabees). These are prayers, Psalms, and Odes. These include other psalms of David, a prayer of Joseph, a prayer of Manasseh after he repented and turned back to the LORD (this is a beautiful little prayer), and the Odes of Solomon. Then there are other pieces of poetry, oracles, dramas, and so on.

Pseudepigrapha can be divided into two more basic categories. There are OT and NT pseudepigrapha. OT deal with, well, OT figures, while NT deal with, you guessed it, NT figures. OT pseudepigrapha were originally written by Jews. However, most of these books were actually preserved by Christians. Early Christians were completely fascinated by these books, and a good many of them actually have Christian additions which were often inserted into the text to show how Christ was the person of whom these books spoke (many of these books are fixated on intertestamental Messianic expectations). A great example of this is how right in the middle of the 8th Sibylline Oracle (a completely fascinating series of oracles), you find an acrostic poem where the first letter of each line spells “Jesus Christ, son of God, savior, cross” in Greek. It is inserted into an oracle that is predicting eschatological upheavals.

NT pseudepigrapha were books written entirely by Christians (though a whole collection of these were written by heretics called Gnostics). Some of these books include letters supposedly written by Ignatius (an Apostolic Father), James (Apocryphon of James), Peter (such as The Letter of Peter to Philip), or even Pontius Pilate. There are “gospels” such as The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew or the Gospel of Nicodemus. There are “history” books such as the Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea or The Acts of Philip. The point is, Jews and Christians of long ago were as creative and fascinated with writing books as they are today. We have hundreds of such books available that most people have never heard about. Curiously, these NT books actually helped the church formalize their lists of canonical NT books, as it is clear in reading them that they are not authoritative.

So why would anyone want to read pseudepigrapha? Let me use 1 Enoch, probably the most famous of all these books, as both an example and a lesson. First, the example. I have a stand alone copy of 1 Enoch on my shelf that contains over 300 footnotes cross referencing this pre-NT book with the 66 books of the Christian Bible.

Fragment of 1 Enoch from the Dead Sea Scrolls

Fragment of 1 Enoch from the Dead Sea Scrolls


Many of those references are to the NT. 1 Enoch was written prior to any NT book, so that means the NT authors were familiar with it. Many people know that Jude actually quotes from this book (Jude 14, 1 Enoch 1:8). So Jude obviously read the book himself. If he did, why wouldn’t I?

Yet, many Christians are so suspicious of any old book not included in the Bible, that while admitting Jude’s citation, they actually take a very skeptical view that this is the only verse of 1 Enoch that is reliable, and we only know this because Jude quoted it. That leads to the lesson. Jude wasn’t necessarily quoting Enoch because he believed this verse or even the book itself was inspired Scripture (Paul quotes Greek poets). Yet, he did believe the book (not just one verse) was reliable and helpful to illustrate his point. What most do not realize is that he alludes to the book at least a dozen other times in his short little letter (see table at the end of this post).

The way to handle a book like Enoch is a good lesson for reading any ancient literature that relates to the Bible. There is no need to take the skeptical route that we can’t trust it because it isn’t God’s word. No one does that with their favorite modern authors. Nor is there any need to say that one verse must be inspired Holy Scripture because Jude quoted it. Instead, approach it and these other books as valuable information that shed light on the culture and theology of the Bible. Read them for what they are, not for what you fear it would make them if you actually enjoyed them. Read them as you would your favorite authors of today.[2]

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

Chart Compiled by Doulgas Van Dorn as taken from George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, ed. Klaus Baltzer, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2001) and Richard J. Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 50, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998).

Chart Compiled by Doulgas Van Dorn as taken from George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, ed. Klaus Baltzer, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2001) and Richard J. Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 50, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998).

Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

Bauckham Pseud

Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

[1] An interesting chart was developed by the folks at Logos Bible Software on the various canons of various churches around the world. While there are differences, note that there is not an infinite number of books that are debated. In fact, with how many books we know about from antiquity, the number is absolutely minuscule. Finally, to the best of our knowledge, the OT of most Protestants (the sixty-six books of our Bibles listed in LBC 1.2), was the one used by the NT writers.

[2] For more on this particular topic, see the “Appendix: Extra-Biblical Literature” in my book Giants: Sons of the Gods (Erie, CO: Waters of Creation Pub., 2013), 235-38.

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Apocrypha (Third Post)

Books, Christian Education, Christian Living, Church History, Culture, Discipleship, Scripture

Say the word “Apocrypha” to a Protestant and you may find a hand reaching down instinctively to find the six-shooter attached to their hip. “Them’s fightin’ words! That’s what those Roman Catholics think is the Bible. That’s where those non-biblical doctrines of purgatory and prayers for the dead come from. To even consider readingYosemite-Sam-warner-brothers-animation-30976315-800-766 those books would be akin to blasphemy. If some Roman Priest reads it, you can count me out.” Of course, that would also have to include books like Genesis or Revelation, since they read those too.

The London Baptist Confession talks about the Apocrypha (the only group of books outside of the Bible that it does talk about). “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon or rule of the Scripture, and, therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings” (LBC 1.3). True, we do not consider them Scripture, nor is what I just said in any way meant to give the impression that purgatory and prayers for the dead are true or good. But don’t move too quickly in what the Confession just said. Think about the end, “… or made use of than other human writings.” “What, you mean like the writings of Anton LeVey, Nostradamus, or Edward Casey?” Sure. But also the writings of those like John Owen or John Calvin or R. C. Sproul. “Other human writings” include all of these. (Remember from the Introduction that a key here is to think the best, not the worst, of these books. One can do that without thinking they are Holy Scripture).

Though written by Jews (not Roman Catholics) prior to the NT, and translated by Hellenistic (Greek-ized) Israelites who included them in their Greek OT Septuagint (LXX), the Protestant Reformers were pretty much in agreement that the Apocryphal books should not be regarded as Holy Scripture, as they are not included in the Hebrew canon. Nevertheless, they still had fairly high regard for many of these books. In 1530, the Swiss reformer Oecolampadius stated, “We do not despise Judith, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the last two books of Esdras, the three books of Maccabees, the Additions to Daniel; but we do not allow them divine authority with the others.[1] In his introduction to the Apocrypha which he translated into German in his 1534 Bible (he put them as a kind of appendix, but would not include as part of the Bible, a tradition that would be followed in most every Protestant Bible until the late 1800s), Martin Luther wrote, “Apocrypha: these books are not held equal to the Scriptures but are useful and good to read.[2]

Luther’s popularity seems to have brought the term “apocrypha” to the common tongue. So what is the Apocrypha? From a word meaning “hidden” (referring either to their authorship or their not being approved for public religious reading), the Apocrypha refers to a collection of a dozen or so books written in the intertestamental period, between Malachi and Matthew—the so-called “silent years” that were really anything but silent. Rome and Orthodoxy refer to them as “deuterocanonical” (literally “second canon”) as opposed to protocanonical (“first canon”). As their term implies, both consider them Holy Scripture. Protestants do not believe there are levels of authoritative books, so “apocrypha” is a less confusing and better term in this regard.

These books vary in genres. There are wisdom books akin to Proverbs such as Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach) or the Wisdom of Solomon; historical fiction such as Tobit or Judith; history books like the Maccabees (there are 4 books of Maccabees, but at least one is usually included as a pseudepigrapha, see next post); expansions on Scripture such as additions to Esther, Jeremiah, and Daniel (including the Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Jews, Suzanna, and the funny and fascinating Bel and the Dragon); prophetic and apocalyptic books like Baruch (Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe in the Bible) or 2 Esdras (Ezra); and songs such as The Prayer of Manasseh.

So why would you want to read the Apocrypha? Here are a few reasons. The first is put in the Preface to the Apocrypha of the 1560 Geneva Bible (which retained the books as an appendix, as did almost every Protestant Bible until the 1800s), the favorite Bible of the Puritans, “… but as books proceeding from godly men were received to be read for the advancement and furtherance of the knowledge of the history and for the instruction of godly manners, etc.” So just like you might go to George Washington’s Rules of Civility, so also you might go to Sirach to learn wisdom (remembering that the President was an Anglican and the author of Sirach was quite possibly a believing Jew prior to the coming of Jesus Christ). Or, just as you might read Anne Frank talk about the Holocaust, so also you might read about the fascinating wars of the Maccabees.

Second, any time you can read other material written near the time of the Bible, it helps shed light on the customs, philosophies, and culture of the biblical authors. This in turn helps you to understand and interpret them more accurately. In this case, this is especially true of the NT authors, who were not far removed at all from the world we read about in Apocryphal books.

Third, believe it or not, you might just find the reading of these books both fascinating and even inspiring (do not read “inspired”), just as you would reading any good Christian book worth its salt today. Fact is, the Apocrypha has stood the test of time in terms of great literature. For that reason alone, but for so many more, they are worth diving into.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)


Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

[1] Cited in The New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha: Augmented Third Edition, ed. Michael D. Coogan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 6. This book is a helpful compilation of the Apocrypha along with brief introductions to each book.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999).

Singing As A Means of Grace: Singing With Grace In Our Hearts

Music, Worship

4) We Need to Sing with Grace in Our Hearts

Finally, Colossians 3:16 says, we need to sing “with grace in our hearts…

In the New Testament, grace is practically a “thing”.  Paul says repeatedly in his letters, “Grace to you…”  Grace is God’s undeserved, unmerited love and favor.   To draw an important distinction between mercy and grace:  Mercy is God forgiving you, wiping the slate clean, canceling your debt.  If you’ve got a big debt to God, mercy is a good thing; you want your debt cancelled.  But if your debts are just cancelled, you still have a problem: you’re still broke, you’re just not in debt anymore.  Grace is not just God canceling your debt; grace is God giving you his riches and favor.  He doesn’t just wipe the slate clean; he invites you into his adopted family as a prince of the kingdom, makes you his son and daughter, covers you with robes of righteousness, adopts you.  That’s grace!

So, Paul says, We’re to sing with grace in our hearts!  Our singing is meant to be a response and a meditation of all of God’s grace poured out on us through the blood of Christ.  In Colossians 3:12, Paul had said, “Put on as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience…”  He was saying: Live in light of the riches of grace.  Remember that you are chosen and dearly loved.  Live in light of that grace you have received.  He then said in 3:16, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.”  It’s a Word about Christ, about the grace of Christ: That’s why we sing!

It’s why we sing: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”  To hear the “sweetness” of the sound, sometimes we need to sing it!

Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people…”  Titus 3:4-7 echoes, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Grace from God “appeared” in history in the Person of Jesus Christ.  But then Jesus “appears” to us by the Spirit through the ministry of the Word (2 Cor. 4:6, 2 Tim.1:9-11).

Has grace “appeared” to you?  It disappears from our minds all the time.  That’s one reason why you need to sing! —to have grace appear, to remind yourself: the goodness and lovingkindness of God has appeared!  When we meditate on that, we should start to sing.  There should be a movement in our heart to sing that!

At great moments of redemption, people sang.  When the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea and reached on the other side – they sang!  When God did great things for David – he sang!  When God did great things for Hannah – she sang…for Mary – she sang…for Zechariah – he sang.  Has God done great things for you?  Have you started to sing?

Psalm 40:1-3 says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.  He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”  Did you catch that last part?  “Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord”…when I sing of what he’s done for me.

My life goes on in endless song, above earth’s lamentations.
I hear the real, though far-off hymn, that hails a new creation.
Above the tumult and the strife, I hear its music ringing.
It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear, and hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near, how can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile our thoughts to them are winging.
When friends by shame are undefiled, how can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die, the Lord my Savior liveth.
And though the darkness round me close, songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

Author Unknown

(By: Matt Foreman)

Ants Marching

Christian Living, Culture

anttrailThere’s a lady at the local Waffle House location here in Rincon, Georgia who has been employed by the Waffle House since 1974. If you’re like me and need someone to do the math for you, that’s 41 years at the same job. And if you’re short on knowledge when it comes to job statistics, let’s just say 41 years with a single employer is as rare as a Christmas Island Frigatebird. On average, workers in the United States will have 11 jobs in their lifetime, which means a new job around every 4 years. That’s a lot of transition!

As I was enjoying my near-weekly All-Star Special (bacon, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, plain waffle, and wheat toast) with a black coffee (no cream, no sugar… a man’s drink) at the Waffle House this morning, I got to thinking about work and being on the same job over four decades. What is it like to step up to the same taskwafflehouseoutside every week for 41 years? Few will ever know. Most people think of their work in the way described in the Dave Matthews Band song Ants Marching:

He wakes up in the morning
Does his teeth bite to eat and he’s rolling
Never changes a thing
The week ends the week begins

Lights down, you up and die

When all the little ants are marching
Red and black antennas waving
we all do it the same
we all do it the same way

Unfortunately, the mundane plodding of life seems to be the very thing most people are seeking to escape as quickly as possible in this life. We often see no value in a life lived wherein we wake up, work, and go to bed most days of the week. Is that all there is? Surely the weekends and vacations should be the norm instead! But the Bible’s description of work is far different than the perception of most people. Mankind is created in the image of God, thus man is created as a worker and has the responsibility to harness and utilize the earth’s resources for service and enjoyment.

The work that God calls each person to is not a post-fall reality that we have to suffer through, but a pre-fall gift that God made us for. The first job recorded in the Bible was given to Adam by God in the garden of Eden: cultivate the ground and take dominion over all the earth. It seems like such a mundane job… gardening. But it’s a dignified and holy job because God provided it and called it good. Indeed, all legitimate work done to the glory of God is dignified and good. The post-fall reality of work is that it will be difficult and full of trials, but it’s still good and worthy of our time and effort.

I have a good friend who has a part-time job reading through essays that accompany applications to a well known university in the northeast. Apart from the lack of future writers in the stack, the other glaring reality my friend and I regularly discuss is that the average college applicant has one thing in mind: Graduate college to get a high paying job. What do they want to do with their life and what will it count for? They usually can’t say. So why do they assume a college degree means they’re worth a big paycheck and a position in the company of their choice? I believe it’s because we’ve lost sight of the value of all kinds of legitimate work and have exchanged it with a high view of self. While the developed/developing world seeks to funnel every 18-20 year old into a college, the reality is that most jobs in a standard economy don’t need a four-year college education, and are just as noble and necessary as the jobs that take 8-12 years of college. Where would we be without sanitation workers, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, roofers, and farmers? Trust me…. you don’t want me working on your car or building your house!

I hope Christians can change the conversation. Instead of marching like an ant to the workplace each day, can we instead think of our work as a noble, God-glorifying pursuit? Christians should be the best employees, wherever they work, because we work not ultimately for man, but onto the Lord (Colossians 3:23). It’s not inherently wrong to change jobs and start a new career, but it can also be an indication that we struggle to be content.

When the gospel changes a person, their entire outlook on life changes. For the workaholic, they no longer seek their identity in their job, because they know their identity is in Christ. For the sluggard, they no longer see work as a drudgery and a curse, they understand it as a gift, albeit filled with difficulties. The Christian will live life in such a way as to not bring reproach to the name of Christ, but will instead execute their duties in life in such a way that Christ is honored and exalted.

So what about you? Is a bad day of doing your hobby better than the best day of work, or is your work a gift from God that you are thankful for, that you do to the best of your ability, and that you utilize as a means to bring glory to God and good to those you work with and for?

(By: Nick Kennicott)

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Introduction Part II–Objections and Suggestions (Second Post)

Books, Christian Education, Christian Living, Church History, Culture, Discipleship, Scripture, Uncategorized


In the first post in this series, we introduced the topic of extra-biblical literature and focused in on what makes the Bible unique. But I realize people have objections to objectioneven reading this kind of material. In this post we will look at some objections and I will offer some suggestions that I hope you will find helpful for giving one or more of these areas of study a try.

Here are a couple of things I can imagine some people saying (actually, I don’t have to imagine it at all. I’ve said them myself and had others say them to me). “Some of the books you mentioned are written by Christians, while others are written by non-Christians. We shouldn’t read books by non-Christians.” Keep that thought in mind the next time you pick up a Tom Clancy thriller or Spider-man comic or a grocery store tabloid or the editorial section in the Wall Street Journal.

But some of those books are dangerous because they teach us about false gods. We shouldn’t open ourselves up to demonic worldviews or influences.” Remember that the next time you walk through a mall or watch the Oscars or talk to most college students at your local university. It isn’t reading books like these that we should be concerned about; it is having in our minds that somehow, because they are old, or because they are religious, that they are in competition with the Bible.


Do not be afraid of exposing yourself to old ideas, because Christianity is perfectly capable of holding its own against the best and worst, the most subtle, and the most diabolical ideas the world’s religions have ever offered. If you struggle with this during or after reading a particular work, then I would suggest perhaps reading some apologetic material to go along with it. We really can give good answers for any high or lofty idea that sets itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:4-5), especially if they are supernatural (as in fallen supernatural beings) in origin, as many of the religions of the world undoubtedly are.[1]

Also, consider this. Ancient books are the stories the biblical authors had access to (or those writing after the completion of the NT). These were their “Best Sellers.” They knew about them. They quoted them (see the table at the end of this post). And most of all, they used these stories to the advantage of the people of God. Paul cited Greek poets as an inroad to preaching the gospel (Acts 17:28). Jude used Jewish literature to warn about the last days. This, of course, means they had to have read this stuff.[2] Historical books and letters regularly cite non-canonical books that they used to compile their histories (see the table at the end of this post). The prophets often used the stories of Canaan to mock with their own language and images the gods of the nations, all while glorifying the God who alone created all things.[3]

The Christian Hollywood screen writer Brian Godawa calls this “subversion,” and Hollywood uses it all the time. Good examples are the recent remakes of Noah and Moses, remakes that tell the world what a bunch of monsters and lunatics the “heroes” of the Bible and their God really were. They use our own stories against us! It is a powerful way to indoctrinate someone, because it works on the psyche of a person without them even knowing it. They think they are merely being entertained! Once you are aware of the what the Bible is doing, it can only give a greater appreciation for its God and provide a more faithful original context into which you can understand redemptive history.[4] That’s why the prophets did it.

To conclude, allow me to summarize my suggestions for how to read these books:

1. PRESUPPOSE THAT WHAT YOU ARE READING IS NOT SCRIPTURE. Because it isn’t! In 98% of what you will read, this is not difficult, since no Jew or Christian has ever regarded them as such. Remember that they are writings of humans, not God. Understand that they all have their own context, their own genre, their own purpose for existence, as any other book does.

2. TREAT THESE BOOKS LIKE COMMENTARIES, be they commentaries on the Bible or commentaries on a particular culture. In some ways, that is what any book is. In particular, read books closely related to the Bible as you would read Calvin and Augustine (insert your own favorite author here). In other words, be fair. You will find many things in these books that you agree with as you would if reading a good author today. You will find other things that you do not agree with as you would if reading someone with whom you do not agree. The Jews of old were just like people today.  Their views are diverse rather than monolithic. You will be exposed to all sorts of ideas here.

3. DO NOT LET “CHAPTER AND VERSE” BOTHER YOU. For some people, this creates a kind of cognitive dissonance, confusing their minds because it reminds them of the Bible. For convenience, most ancient literature (including Greek poets, Babylon-ian cuneiform tablets, the Church Fathers, etc.) has been numerically itemized for the sake of easy notation and reference. The Bible wasn’t written with chapter and verse; this was added later. So reading a book with chapter and verse marked in it does not mean you are reading God’s word.

4. TAKE NOTE OF SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES with the Biblical texts. Keep in mind that biblical authors often allude and sometimes even quote these sources.  (The same is also true in reverse, if fact much more so). A citation does not make it “inspired” anymore than Paul citing Greek poets makes them “inspired.”  It does mean that you can learn from these books. When you discover a conflict between a particular book and the Scripture, do what all Christians have done since the beginning of time—let the Scripture have the final say.

5. DON’T FEEL LIKE YOU ARE BEING UNFAITHFUL TO GOD by reading them. You aren’t. Remember we have Biblical precedent for reading other ancient Jewish material outside of the Bible. For example, the Chronicler references nearly 20 such books from which he was drawing his sources and which he expected his original readers would be able to read themselves. The NT quotes, refers to, or allude to many of these books. I have compiled a Table below with the most well known direct quotations or citations of non-biblical works (I have not put any allusions or echoes in the Table).

In these next few posts I’ll try to take you on a whirlwind tour of the ancient literary world, a world that has tremendous impact on our understanding, appreciation, and faith in the Bible: God Holy Scripture.

Chart Compiled by Douglas Van Dorn

Chart Compiled by Douglas Van Dorn

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

[1] Over the past half dozen years or so, my own mind has been opened up to the supernatural world around us, the world that the Bible explicitly and consistently tells us to be on guard against. “If an angel from heaven should preach another gospel,” Paul tells the Galatians, implies (especially in the context of the rest of the letter) that they actually do! Mormonism and Islam do not get their power purely from the minds of human beings.

[2] There are tons of allusions in the Bible to Jewish texts not found in the canon of Holy Scripture. Two fairly extensive lists of these allusions and quotations can be found in Craig A. Evans, Noncanonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Pub, 1992), pp. 190-219, and Steve Delamarter, A Scripture Index to Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002).

[3] Dr. Michael Heiser has a great article introducing this idea using the writings of the Canaanites and their idea of the “cloud rider,” an idea which they applied to Baal, but which Scripture emphatically applies to Yahweh. See Michael S. Heiser, “What’s Ugaritic Got to Do with Anything?“, last accessed 3-10-2015.

[4]  Consider the London Baptist Confession’s words that “in a due use of ordinary means,” anyone “may attain to a sufficient understanding of [the Scripture]” (LBC 1.7). Part of these ordinary means would include knowing the literature of the day that was being thought about, borrowed, alluded to, polemicized, and quoted throughout the Scripture.

Singing As A Means of Grace: Different Types of Songs

Music, Worship

3) We Need to Sing Different Types of Songs

Col.3:16 tells us we need to sing different types of songs – “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”.  Some people in history have tried to make very specific definitions of those three words – asserting that these were different divisions of the psalter.  There is very little historical evidence for that view.  I think he’s just saying – sing different kinds of songs.

Obviously, the Psalms were meant to be sung.  Jesus and the disciples, growing up in Jewish society, sang Psalms regularly as part of their worship.  We need to glean from and sing the Psalms.

But when Paul says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…singing with grace in your hearts”, I believe that implies singing songs also in light of Christ and the grace revealed in the Gospel.  In fact, there are examples in the New Testament of verses with a metrical flavor that may have actually been early Christian hymns.  (Scholars point to 1 Tim.3:16, 1 Tim.6:15-16, 2 Tim.2:11-13, and Philippians 2:6-11 as the most likely.  But the list also may include Col.1:15-20, Titus 3:4-7, and Heb.1:3-4.  Certainly, there are examples in the book of Revelation.)  Also, there are clear examples in the early church of hymns based on the New Testament work of Christ.  The Christians were writing and singing new songs as part of their worship.

But “different types of songs” should also include the content of the songs, the mood and expression of the songs.  If we need to be taught the whole counsel of God in his Word, we need to sing the entire range of songs needed by God’s people.  So our repertoire needs to be more nuanced than some of the ‘happy-clappy’ songs that are sometimes the staple in churches today.  Dr. Carl Trueman wrote a (now famous) article several years ago entitled, “What Do Sad Christians Sing?” – pointing out that many popular Christians songs don’t express the kinds of lamentations you sometimes see in Scripture and that believers can certainly experience.  The Psalms are sometimes very raw and honest.  Believers need those types of songs, that express truths about our experience in this fallen world.

Sometimes this diversity is best reflected in the liturgy itself.  ‘Liturgy’ just means the order of your service.  Christian churches for centuries have often practiced a liturgy that follows a certain order of thought – such as: Adoration (beginning with praise to God), Confession (confession of sin, confession of need for God), Assurance (detailing the promises of the Gospel, objectively what God has done to forgive us of our sins), Commitment (exhortations to live lives pleasing to God).  This order can be reflected and practiced in the songs that are sung.  Another way of thinking about it is that Christian liturgy has often been a recapitulation of Biblical history: of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.  God created the world (we praise him), man fell (we confess our sins), Christ brought redemption (through the Gospel), and now we try to live our lives pleasing to him.  Our worship services, I believe, both in the readings and the songs we sing, should follow something of that order, as a re-expression of the Gospel every week – and expressing the diversity that Christians need.  We need to adore him, we need to confess our sins and weaknesses and griefs and sorrows, we need to assure ourselves of his love in Christ, and we need to compel ourselves to live for him.

The idea of “different types of songs” can also impact the style of songs.  Sometimes people struggle with the idea that style is attuned to cultural preferences and traditions that are not strictly Biblical.  But musicologists can demonstrate how musical style develops over regions and over time and can be compared to ‘different musical dialects’.  The music that was sung in the New Testament era and in the early church would have sounded very different and alien to our ears.  The music that has been sung by Christians over the centuries has been as diverse as the cultures that have been impacted by the Gospel.  It can be appropriate then to think about the musical ‘vernacular’ of our church and culture (as a ‘circumstance of worship’).  It can also be appropriate to express some musical diversity in our corporate singing, especially if our churches begin to reflect the ethnic diversity of the body of Christ, which we long to be expressed.

(By: Matt Foreman)