Friday, September 14, 2007

Are You Sure You Want to Win? 5 Years After $315 Million

5 years after winning record Powerball prize, W. Virginia man reflects on fate:

"MOUNT HOPE, W.Va. (AP) - In his darkest moments, Jack Whittaker has sometimes wondered if winning the nearly US$315 million Powerball game was really worth it."

Why, you ask? Here are a few quotes:

"Before Powerball, Whittaker and his wife went to church together. These days, he seldom does.

"It's just aggravating, you know. People come up and ask you for money all the time, tell you some kind of a sob story."

"If it would bring my granddaughter back, I'd give it all back," Whittaker said of his jackpot. "But I can't get her back, so might as well keep the money, I guess."

"I'm only going to be remembered as the lunatic who won the lottery," he said. "I'm not proud of that. I wanted to be remembered as someone who helped a lot of people."

Jesus is God – Wayne Grudem Defends John 1:1 “the Word was God”

Further to my post quoting from D. A. Carson yesterday, I thought I would add this excellent defense of the deity of Jesus from the pen of Wayne Grudem. The following is taken directly from his Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994) pages 234-235. You can purchase this helpful volume from Westminster Books here.


The translation “the Word was God” has been challenged by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who translate it “the Word was a god,” implying that the Word was simply a heavenly being but not fully divine. They justify this translation by pointing to the fact that the definite article (Gk. ho, “the”) does not occur before the Greek word theos (“God”). They say therefore that theos should be translated “a god.” However, their interpretation has been followed by no recognized Greek scholar anywhere, for it is commonly known that the sentence follows a regular rule of Greek grammar, and the absence of the definite article merely indicates that “God” is the predicate rather than the subject of the sentence.’[1] (A recent publication by the Jehovah’s Witnesses now acknowledges the relevant grammatical rule but continues to affirm their position on John 1:1 nonetheless.)’[2]

The inconsistency of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ position can further be seen in their translation of the rest of the chapter. For various other grammatical reasons the word theos also lacks the definite article at other places in this chapter, such as verse 6 (“There was a man sent from God”), verse 12 (“power to become children of God”), verse 13 (“but of God”), and verse 18 (“No one has ever seen God”). If the Jehovah’s Witnesses were consistent with their argument about the absence of the definite article, they would have to translate all of these with the phrase “a god,” but they translate “God” in every case.

John 20:28 in its context is also a strong proof for the deity of Christ. Thomas had doubted the reports of the other disciples that they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, and he said he would not believe unless he could see the nail prints in Jesus’ hands and place his hand in his wounded side (John 20:25). Then Jesus appeared to the disciples when Thomas was with them. He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing” (John 20:27). In response to this, we read, “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Here Thomas calls Jesus “my God.” The narrative shows that both John in writing his gospel and Jesus himself approve of what Thomas has said and encourage everyone who hears about Thomas to believe the same things that Thomas did. Jesus immediately responds to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29). As far as John is concerned, this is the dramatic high point of the gospel, for he immediately tells the reader—in the very next verse—that this was the reason he wrote it:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30—31)

Jesus speaks of those who will not see him and will yet believe, and John immediately tells the reader that he recorded the events written in his gospel in order that they may believe in just this way, imitating Thomas in his confession of faith. In other words, the entire gospel is written to persuade people to imitate Thomas, who sincerely called Jesus “My Lord and my God.” Because this is set out by John as the purpose of his gospel, the sentence takes on added force.[3]

[1] This rule (called “Colwell’s rule”) is covered as early as chapter 6 of a standard introductory Greek grammar: See John Wenham, The Elements of New Testament Greek (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), P. 35; also, BDF, 273. The rule is simply that in sentences with the linking verb “to be” (such as Gk. eimi), a definite predicate noun will usually drop the definite article when it precedes the verb, but the subject of the sentence, if definite, will retain the definite article. So if John had wanted to say, “The Word was God,” John 1:1 is exactly the way he would have said it. (Recent grammatical study has confirmed and even strengthened Colwell’s original rule: see Lane C. McGaughy, Toward a Descriptive Analysis of EINAI as a Linking Verb in the New Testament [SBLDS 6; Missoula, Mont.: SBL, 1972], esp. PP. 49—53, 73—77; and the important review of this book by E. V. N. Goetchius in JBL 95 [1976]: 147—49.)

Of course, if John had wanted to say, “The Word was a god” (with an indefinite predicate, “a god’), it would also have been written this way, since there would have been no definite article to drop in the first place. But if that were the case, there would have to be some clues in the context that John was using the word theos to speak of a heavenly being that was not fully divine. So the question becomes, what kind of God (or “god”) is John talking about in this context? Is he speaking of the one true God who created the heavens and the earth? In that case, theos was definite and dropped the definite article to show that it was the predicate. Or is he speaking about some other kind of heavenly being (“a god”) who is not the one true God? In that case, theos was indefinite and never had a definite article in the first place.

The context decides this question clearly. From the other uses of the word theos to mean “God” in vv. 1, 2, 6, 12, 13, et al., and from the opening words that recall Gen. 1:1 (“In the beginning”), it is clear that John is speaking of the one true God who created the heavens and the earth. That means that theos in v. 2 must be understood to refer to that same God as well.

[2] ‘The argument is found in a detailed, rather extensive attack on the doctrine of the Trinity: Should You Believe in the Trinity? (no author named; Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1989). This group apparently deems this booklet a significant statement of their position, for page 2 states, “First printing in English: 5,000,000 copies.” The booklet first advances the traditional argument that John 1:1 should be translated “a god” because of the absence on the definite article (p. 27). But then it later acknowledges that Colwell’s rule is relevant for John 1:1 (p. 28) and there admits that the context, not the absence of the definite article, determines whether we should translate “the Word was God” (definite) or “the Word was a god” (indefinite). Then it argues as follows: “...when the context requires it, translators may insert an indefinite article in front of the noun in this type of sentence structure. Does the context require an indefinite article at John 1:1? Yes, for the testimony of the entire Bible is that Jesus is not Almighty God” (p. 28).

We should note carefully the weakness of this argument: They admit that context is decisive, but then they quote not one shred of evidence from the context of John 1:1. Rather, they simply assert again their conclusion about “the entire Bible.” If they agree that this context is decisive, but they can find nothing in this context that supports their view, they have simply lost the argument. Therefore, having acknowledged Colwell’s rule, they still hold their view on John 1:1, but with no supporting evidence. To hold a view with no evidence to support it is simply irrationality.

The booklet as a whole will give an appearance of scholarly work to laypersons, since it quotes dozens of theologians and academic reference works (always without adequate documentation). However, many quotations are taken out of context and made to say something the authors never intended, and others are from liberal Catholic or Protestant scholars who themselves are questioning both the doctrine of the Trinity and the truthfulness of the Bible.

[3] The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ booklet Should You Believe in the Trinity? offers two explanations for John 20:28: (1) “To Thomas, Jesus was like ‘a god,’ especially in the miraculous circumstances that prompted his exclamation” (p. 29). But this explanation is unconvincing, because Thomas did not say, “You are like a god,” but rather called Jesus “my God.” The Greek text has the definite article (it cannot be translated “a god”) and is explicit: ho theos mon is not “a god of mine” but “my God.”
(2) The second explanation offered is that “Thomas may simply have made an emotional exclamation of astonishment, spoken to Jesus but directed to God” (ibid.). The second part of this sentence, “spoken to Jesus but directed to God,” is simply incoherent: it seems to mean, “spoken to Jesus but not spoken to Jesus,” which is not only self-contradictory, but also impossible: if Thomas is speaking to Jesus he is also directing his words to Jesus. The first part of this sentence, the claim that Thomas is really not calling Jesus “God,” but is merely swearing or uttering some involuntary words of exclamation, is without merit, for the verse makes it clear that Thomas was not speaking into the blue but was speaking directly to Jesus: “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28, NASB). And immediately both Jesus and John in his writing commend Thomas, certainly not for swearing but for believing in Jesus as his Lord and his God.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Jesus is God - D.A. Carson defends John 1:1 "the Word was God"

Several months ago I was "evangelized" by a Jehovah's Witness over the telephone. The whole event was rather miserable - you can read about it here.
After this event I freshened up my understanding of John 1 and was greatly helped by D.A. Carson's brief comments from his Pillar Commentary. I thought the same might be of some help to you should you get a phone call one day. You could just let the guy talk while you run to the computer, log on to this blog, and search Carson, Jehovah's Witness, John 1, Jesus is God, or something like that. Now that those phrases are all part of this post, it should be pretty easy to find!

More, the Word was God. That is the translation demanded by the Greek structure, theos en ho logos. A long string of writers has argued that because theos, ‘God’, here has no article, John is not referring to God as a specific being, but to mere qualities of ‘God-ness’. The Word, they say, was not God, but divine. This will not do. There is a perfectly service­able word in Greek for ‘divine’ (namely theios). More importantly, there are many places in the New Testament where the predicate noun has no article, and yet is specific. Even in this chapter, ‘you are the King of Israel’ (1:49) has no article before ‘King’ in the original (cf. also Jn. 8:39; 17:17; Rom. 14:17; Gal. 4:25; Rev. 1:20). It has been shown that it is common for a definite predicate noun in this construction, placed before the verb, to be anarthrous (that is, to have no article; ...). Indeed, the effect of ordering the words this way is to emphasize ‘God’, as if John were saying, ‘and the word was God!’ In fact, if John had included the article, he would have been saying something quite untrue. He would have been so identifying the Word with God that no divine being could exist apart from the Word. In that case, it would be nonsense to say (in the words of the second clause of this verse) that the Word was with God. The ‘Word does not by Himself make up the entire Godhead; nevertheless the divinity that belongs to the rest of the God­head belongs also to Him’ (Tasker, p. 45). ‘The Word was with God, God’s eternal Fellow; the Word was God, God’s own Self.’ (Edmund P. Clowney, ‘A Biblical Theology of Prayer’, in D. A. Carson (ed.), Teach Us to Pray: Prayer in the Bible and the World (Paternoster/Baker, 1990).

Here then are some of the crucial constituents of a full-blown doctrine of the Trinity. ‘John intends that the whole of his gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true the book is blasphemous’ (Barrett, p. 156).

- Taken from, The Gospel According to John: Pillar New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 1991: page 117).

You can purchase this commentary from Westminster Books here - on sale for an amazing $25.30 as of this posting date!! (Regularly $46.00)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

CD Review: In a Little While (by Mark and Stephen Altrogge)

I love the guys at Sovereign Grace Ministries. I love the way the do stuff – and especially the way they write songs.

Disclosure: Several years ago we took a family vacation in Indiana, Pennsylvania so that we could attend a worship service at Lord of Life Church. LOL (recently renamed, Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA) is pastored by Mark Altrogge, and after singing this brother’s songs for many years I had a desire to “see him in action” at his home church. We had a great time of fellowship.

Back to the review: Mark and his eldest son, Stephen, were asked by SGM to put together a joint project – songs written and sung by father and son. You can read various interviews of the Altrogge’s at and at Bob Kauflin's Worship Matters.

When I first heard of the project, I was thrilled. I don’t think Mark has published a song yet that I have not profited from, and Stephen’s “What a Glorious Mystery You Are” is one of our church favorites. My disc finally arrived in the mail and the whole family has been enjoying it for the last month.

There is a fairly broad range of musical genre in the compilation, from driving guitars to a banjo. The songs centre on the cross and thematically you might be able to lump them all into the “encouragement” category (or, as the web advertising says, they “reflect the hope found where daily life meets biblical truth.”)

Like so many of Mark’s earlier songs, they combine pithy lyrics with very singable, yet not boringly predictable melody lines. I think that may be one of the real gifts to Mark that has traveled through the genetics to Stephen. I have always thought that good worship songs should have an almost “jingle-like predictability / learnability to them, without being mundane and boring. Congregations full of a wide range of singing abilities need that – and the Altrogge’s deliver on this album.

The signature song is a wonderful and interesting musical arrangement with lyrics that bring hope by considering heaven. “And we will see Your face with our own eyes / We will gaze with our own eyes / Full on Your glory, never have to look away / In a little while, a little while...” That thought, “never have to look away” has been one pondered and profited from in the Martin home.

Stephen opens the album with the rocking, At the Cross: “At the cross our debt is cancelled / Paid in full when Jesus died / At the cross our souls are ransomed / Purchased with the blood of Christ / At the cross our sin is conquered / Heaven’s gates are opened wide at the cross.”

I think my favorite song so far (this is so subjective, I know!) is Mark’s “All I Really Need.” This song is one of those really nice matches of lyric to music and its simple message such a fresh and needed reminder: “All I really need is Your grace / All I need to know is You are near me / All I need is You / All I really need is Your grace / All I need to know is You are for me / All I need is You...” What a great thought!

The overall musical quality of the CD is top notch, although I did find a couple of numbers sounding very similar to the Christmas CD “Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man. This might have been due to Sal Oliveri producing both projects or just the instruments used in recording? I don't think it takes away from the recording in the end.

One funny feature of this CD is its unique likeness at several points to a couple of songs off the “That Thing You Do” soundtrack. The first one to notice this was my 6 year old son! It took him a while to explain it to us, but the boy was right! Which is a very ironic twist in this story.

The day after our great visit with the Altrogge’s in the stately-named Indiana, Pennsylvania, we left for home. Well, home for the Toronto-bound means a trip through, Erie, PA... birthplace of “The Wonders” – that iconic, fictional band of the cult classic, “That Thing You Do.” Weird!

Anyway, this is a project I highly commend to you. The songs on this disc are great to sing at your church, with your family, in the car or anywhere else. And like everything that comes from SGM, they will exalt Jesus Christ our Saviour. What could be better than that!? Buy it and be blessed!


You can download free audio song samples, free sheet music and free lyrics from here.

Buy individual tracks here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Book Review: “The Three Are One: What the Bible teaches about the Trinity” by Stuart Olyott

As a pastor I am always on the hunt for helpful books in explaining some of the fundamentals of the faith. One oft-neglected author of books in this category is Dr. Stuart Olyott.

Pastor Olyott has written some wonderful little commentaries of Evangelical Press, as well as a number of other books that are excellent tools to give folks in your church. More people need to know this author and appreciate his excellent work! Years of faithful ministry in local churches and the mission field have equipped this dear brother to “scratch where people itch.” He answers common questions with plain language.

“The Three Are One” is one of the most useful books I have ever read on the subject of the tri-unity of God. Olyott wrote the book as a primer on the Trinity, and even includes a further reading list at the back of this book for more detailed study. But here he answers all the common questions with lots of Bible: Is Jesus God? What is the Holy Spirit? How can three be one? How are Father, Son and Holy Spirit different?

And the best part is, each chapter is well-outlined, succinctly and warmly stated and every Bible verse carefully referenced. This means the book serves equally well as an excellent reference for the busy pastor just wanting a quick survey of appropriate texts.

I gladly endorse this book and urge you to pick up a copy. There are few greater encouragements to the soul than meditating on God’s very nature. Olyott will carry you through the Biblical data in a winsome fashion and leave you longing for more and more of our great Saviour!

“The Three Are One: What the Bible teaches about the Trinity” (Evangelical Press, 1996).

For other books by Olyott, check out what our friends at Westminster Books are selling here.

Thabiti, Benny, Osteen, and Fame

The other night I had the joy of fellowshipping with my “blog friend” Thabiti Anyabwile. Pastor T was in town to preach for the Sola Scriptura Conference on Islam and from all reports he brought two very powerful and helpful messages.
After preaching in the morning for my friend Kenny (of the church with no web page) he joined us for our evening service and came back home for some dinner and fellowship. All of this reminded me once again how different men are that love the doctrines of grace.
Some may disagree, but I don’t think you would find Joel Osteen or Benny Hinn coming to our church and giving up an evening to talk ministry. You might say, “Well, these fellows you mention are big time – best-selling authors, television personalities… they are in a different class.” But I beg to differ.
I have spent some time around some pretty large luminaries in the broader evangelical constellation. It is rather funny how that has worked in my life! But it was not until I came around men of reformed persuasion that I met men who were genuinely more concerned for the glory of God than the glory of their own name. They have their assistants and such, but the whole flavour is different. It is not all “entourage” and “take a number” and celebrity “perks.” Rather, it is normal guys, aware of their own wicked hearts, in love with the Saviour and willing to keep on preaching in spite of the popularity.
It struck me last week that popularity, or perhaps “influence” might have been one of the deepest temptations for our Lord. Didn’t the Devil promise authority and glory over all the kingdoms of the world for a moment of worship? So much influence, at such a “small” cost! Yet, “you shall worship the Lord your God and Him alone shall you serve!” Praise the Lord for His faithfulness in withstanding the wiles of the Devil!
Even then, in reading through the Gospels, one cannot help but notice that immediately before many of the times Jesus is said to have “gone alone to a desolate place to pray,” was a moment of immense popular influence. Could it be that Jesus ran to His Father in order to guard His soul from the applause of men?
Weren’t some of Jesus’ sharpest words reserved for Peter when the foot-shaped-mouth disciple urged Jesus to ride the wave of popularity? “Get behind me, Satan!”
The esteem of men is slow poison.
One small compromise here… one great delight in applause there… and soon the heart is chasing the wind of self-exaltation. How do I know? I have had a fairly decent glimpse into my own heart in the matter! And what I see there is frightening.
The only tonic for this heart-sin is Jesus. The Jesus of the Bible who rescues dead sinners according to sovereign, electing grace, by applying His perfect cross-work, and calling God-haters to Himself and keeping them by His power until heaven. And once a man sees all that Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for him… it is very hard to feel like you are much of anything.
I must decrease, but He... HE must increase!
The last few weeks have been a good reminder to me that there is much to be said for a quiet, faithful, God-centered ministry… and much to be feared in fame. I say, let’s pray for those men God has lifted up to positions of great influence. That is no easy place to stand.