Bags of Bran

From Your Perspective
June 27, 2018, 1:49 pm
Filed under: Bible, Biography

Job’s words in Job 26:5-14 reflect a man confronted with “the fringes of His ways” (14). Here we see serpents pierced, Rahab shattered, the moon obscured, the north stretched over empty space. Clearly, for Job, there is a numinous quality to nature: it is, in some ways, as frightening and mysterious as nature’s God.

But when we consider Job’s relationship to this God at this point in the narrative, it makes sense. Let’s assume that you believe, as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, that “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Now, put yourself in Job’s position: The God that he feared and served and loved had, by all appearances, done him dead wrong. Job’s relationship with God was embittered. Back to this passage: when you know that God is all-powerful and all-knowing and everywhere-present, but you aren’t sure of your standing before Him, this is what nature looks like to you. It is a terrifying place.

Compare Job 26 with Psalm 8, where the author sings of God’s creation from an entirely different perspective. God’s presence in and behind the forces of nature are no longer uncanny and hostile: His name is majestic in all the earth! No longer are the signs in the heavens portents of divine wrath: they are splendid! Why?

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.” (Psalm 8:3–8, NASB95)

Here is the difference: David was certain of God’s love for him. These two men could look on the same set of phenomena and come away with very different impressions based on the status of their relationship to the Creator.


1 Timothy Resources
March 2, 2018, 9:18 pm
Filed under: Bible, Pastor Stuff

A while ago (a Sunday back in January) I finished preaching through 1 Timothy. Paul addresses Timothy’s situation with immediacy and timelessness, and making the jump from the first to the twenty-first century was little strain on the imagination. This letter speaks to our cheapening age with a rebuke like the voice of many waters.

Another while ago (still back in January) I mused aloud about giving my opinion on the resources I used to prepare sermons from 1 Timothy. They varied somewhat from week to week, especially over the eight weeks I spent on 1 Timothy 3:16 alone. But I have some general opinions that may be of use to you, especially since 1) I actually preached through the book; and 2) I am not selling anything.


Marshall, I. Howard, and Philip H. Towner. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. ICC 2004 (LOGOS edition)

I. Howard Marshall really did a good job for me. He seemed to anticipate where I would have questions with the text and give most of the possible explanations. I consulted this lucid, pithy volume every week. He accomplished this without atomizing the text: he was concerned to preserve the thread through the text and made connection to other passages within the Pastoral Epistles regularly.

Also: Marshall had the best introduction that I read, especially in setting the scene at Ephesus. This guided me all the way through the book: it is imperative to remember that Paul was tasking Timothy with a very unsavory task: reclaim the wayward church at Ephesus. He doesn’t believe that Paul wrote the letters, but believes that Paul had a hand in their composition, which, to me, comes across as fence-straddling.

Towner, Philip H. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. NICNT 2006

Towner is great as well. I don’t normally “read” commentaries, but Towner writes well enough that one can “read” him with profit. His introduction is lean, but he makes up for it with his excurses. This is where he develops key ideas in the letter and compares them within the rest of Paul’s letters. These helped me to avoid saying inaccurate things on more than one occasion!

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The First and Second Letters to Timothy. AB 2001

Normally I like Luke Timothy Johnson, but I felt that this volume was rather flat. It was very unlike his commentary on James. After a few weeks I discovered that Marshall and Towner were addressing everything that Johnson was, only more interestedly. I shelved Johnson early and consulted him seldom.

Fee, Gordon D. 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus. NIBC 1988.

Fee is occasionally helpful, occasionally providing broadly biblical support for his conclusions. But he is most helpful in demonstrating the transitions from one section to another: he shows the continuity and unity of the book.

Mounce, William D. Pastoral Epistles. WBC 2000 (LOGOS edition)

I seldom consulted Mounce because, for the most part, the meaning of 1 Timothy is not mired in difficult grammar. This is where Mounce shines (as any of us who have studied Greek will not be surprised to hear): but my questions (again) rarely related to grammar/syntax so much as tracking with Paul’s argument and Timothy’s charge.


This last resource was profitable for making the connections between the text and the congregation. A friend (thanks, Chuck!) gave me the sound and sage advice to consult John Calvin, and he gave me a link to this. It’s a collection of transcripts from Calvin’s sermons on 1 Timothy, translated into English. It is a marvel of pastoral insight. I didn’t go off about popery as much as Calvin did, but there are plenty of analogues in our day.

That about covers it. I occasionally consulted with the church fathers (mostly Augustine and Chrysostom) using LOGOS searches. I also used Calvin’s commentary, but that was just a summary of what was in his sermons. Invest the time: you’ll not regret it.


I didn’t buy Knight’s volume. I wish I would have bought it instead of Johnson, but no, I was stubborn and foolish.

Hope this helps!

Spurious Josephus Quotes?!
April 11, 2017, 3:13 pm
Filed under: Bible, Biography

“They who lose their lives for the sake of God, live unto God, as do Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the rest of the patriarchs.”

Google this quotation, read some of the results, and then tell me that citation and plagiarism problems are new to this age.

Supposedly this quote comes from Josephus. I would have loved to find it and read it in its context because I’m studying resurrection for my sermon. I saw it first in the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (unattributed, except as Josephus). Here is the paragraph:

There is a remarkable passage in Josephus, which proves that the best informed among the Jews believed in the immateriality and immortality of the soul, and that the souls of righteous men were in the presence of God in a state of happiness. ‘They who lose their lives for the sake of God, live unto God, as do Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the rest of the patriarchs.’  Not less remarkable is a passage in Shemoth Rabba, ‘Why doth Moses say, (Ex. 32:13) Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?  R. Abin saith, The Lord said unto Moses, I look for ten men from thee, as I looked for that number in Sodom.  Find me out ten righteous persons among the people, and I will not destroy thy people.  Then saith Moses, Behold, here am I, and Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar, Phinehas, and Caleb, and Joshua; but, saith God, there are but seven:  where are the other three?   When Moses knew not what to do, he saith, O Eternal God, [hayim hem ha-metim,] do those live who are dead?  Yes, saith God.  Then saith Moses, If those that are dead do live, remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’

Fascinating, no? Josephus believed that Jews held to the immortality of the soul? What an excellent thing to quote in a sermon!

Except I looked in Josephus: it’s not there. Not in the wording above; not in similar wording. “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” only occur together once, in a different context. I tried key words; I tried key concepts. Nothing.

So I tried Google, in case it was from a different edition of Josephus. Searching for the initial phrase, I found the same paragraph, but with “Josephus (De Maccab. c. 16)” as the attribution. But again, I have searched Josephus’ entire corpus in vain, manually and electronically, for such a quote. But I found roughly a dozen old books that reproduce the entire paragraph almost verbatim!

The earliest book that contained the quote (and the surrounding paragraph is in Adam Clarke’s commentary on the book of Luke (published 1825). Perhaps he lifted it from someone else? Another book had the paragraph bracketed and the source was listed as Bagster, but I could find no information on it.

Who knows.

Calvin on Eternal Security/Perseverance
January 11, 2017, 1:07 pm
Filed under: Bible, Biography

Eternal Security vs. Perseverance of the Saints: which idea is more biblical?

Many teach and insist upon Eternal Security as an entirely passive state: “fire insurance” or “once saved always saved” or what have you. The sinner’s prayer was, and is, and ever will be, all you ever need. But this is not the way the New Testament reads:

“…holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith…”

Concerning these words, Calvin says:

Seeing it is so, let us take heed when God has given it to us, that we keep it in this way and not lose it. And how can we do this? Of ourselves (as I have often said) we are so frail that whatever we have today is gone tomorrow; nay, it does not even tarry that long; one minute of an hour is enough to deprive us of all the gifts that God has bountifully bestowed upon us.   This is our case. Yet God has not given us faith so that we would enjoy it only for a little while and afterwards be deprived of it. He wants us to possess it forever.

And how may that be? He shows us here the way: it is this, that we go on forward with all reverence once God has shown us the way of salvation, that there be no hypocrisy in us, but instead this uprightness and openness which he speaks of in this place, and that we be no light-headed enough to be carried away with our violent lusts; that we be not also double-hearted to mock God and his grace.

As we see that there are many at this day who would take the Gospel for a cloak to cover all their villainies and think that when they have the name of God in their mouths, their sins become sanctified, and they be completely forgiven them. We must take good heed that we do not in this way profane the word of God, but keep it in a good conscience. And when we do so, let us not doubt that God will give us a steadiness that will never be overcome, though all the winds in the world blow, and all surges and seas rise up against us, in so much that we may seem to be in danger of drowning a hundred times a day, yet God will keep us safe.

John Calvin, sermon on 1 Timothy 1:18-19 (Kindle location 2185 or so)

Paul uses active-tense language: “fight the good fight;” “keeping the faith in a good conscience;” while the others “have rejected” (NASB) and “have made shipwreck of their faith” (ESV). [NB: Grammatically, the rejection and the ship-wrecking of the faith are related, but whichever is the primary activity, it is an activity.]

Therefore, Calvin says. “We must take good heed that we do not in this way profane the word of God, but keep it in good conscience.”

Persevere, therefore, and do not be like those whom Calvin describes thus:

For those who play with God and make only a jesting matter of it, once they know the Gospel they are always talking about it, yet they are given still to all their vanities and are profane persons who will at last be sunk and drowned.

Unknown. John Calvin’s Sermons on 1 Timothy (Kindle Locations 2169-2171). . Kindle Edition.

Burroughs on Simplifying Your Life
December 14, 2016, 3:57 pm
Filed under: Bible, Bibliophilia

Jeremiah Burroughs may not be the master of organization, but he illustrates his points beautifully. In his little volume The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, he makes this call to disengage and simplify our lives:

Do not be greedy of taking in a great deal of the world, for if a man goes among thorns, when he may take a simpler way, he has no reason to complain that he is pricked with them. You go among thorns — is it your way? Must you of necessity go among them? The it is another matter. But if you voluntarily choose that way, when you may go another, then you have no cause to complain. If men and women will thrust themselves on things of the world which they do not need, then no wonder that they are pricked, and meet with what disturbs them. For such is the nature of all things here in this world, that everything has some prick or other in it.

Well said.

John Calvin vs. Seeker Churches
November 19, 2016, 2:06 pm
Filed under: Bible

John Calvin, on those who come to church to be entertained:

Consider how bad is the honor shown to God when people seek out vain curiosities in Holy Scripture, as when Ezekiel reprimands the Jews. (Ezek. 33: 31-33)   They came to him pretending to want to learn doctrine, to sit at his feet, saying, “We come here to be taught from the mouth of God.”   It was a wonderful thing to see their devotion, but God told them that they had come there as a man goes to hear a performer play a harp or flute, only to feed his ears with a pleasant song.   So when they did this they were only trying to mock God and profane his word.   Therefore, let us learn that God does not want temples here to play around and laugh in, as in a theater; but there must be a majesty in one’s words by which we may be moved and touched and receive profitable instruction which leads to salvation.   We must be nourished with this spiritual food so that we may feel that God does not speak to us in vain.

John Calvin’s Sermons on 1 Timothy (Kindle Locations 641-647). Kindle Edition.

In case you are busy and can’t look it up, here is the text to which he refers, Ezekiel 33:31-33:

“They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. “Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them. “So when it comes to pass—as surely it will—then they will know that a prophet has been in their midst.”

From Beowulf
November 8, 2016, 9:16 pm
Filed under: Bible, Bibliophilia

Interesting passage from Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, lines 170-188:

These were hard times, heart-breaking
for the prince of the Shieldings; powerful counsellors,
the highest in the land, would lend advice,
plotting how best the bold defenders
might resist and beat off sudden attacks.
Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed
offerings to idols, swore oaths
that the killer of souls might come to their aid
and save the people. That was their way,
their heathenish hope; deep in their hearts
they remembered hell. The Almighty Judge
of good deeds and bad, the Lord God,
Head of the Heavens and High King of the World
was unknown to them. Oh, cursed is he
who in times of trouble has to thrust his soul
in the fire’s embrace, forfeiting help;
he has nowhere to turn. But blessed is he
who after death can approach the Lord
and find friendship in the Father’s embrace.


Celebrating Revivalism and Other Noxious Pieties


\"If I am immoderate, I am immoderate to God.\" - Bengel


Like sawdust, but edible.

Broad Meadow

I have spoken the truth coldly; who cares for the truth? To be useful, one must be charming, and my pen has lost that art.

Planting churches with the Baptist Confession in one hand and Tolkien in the other

Orchard Keeper

Plucking fruit from the grove of biblical and theological studies

Jubilate Deo

Music in the service of the church


Theology, apologetics, ramblings

Towards Conservative Christianity

Promoting true conservative Christianity


"a changeless sword, By pen and paper lies, That it may moralise My days out of their aimlessness." - Yeats

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