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Bible, Theology

An Exegetical Analysis of 1 Peter 3:18-22

January 15, 2021

 For many students of the Bible, and particularly of the New Testament, 1 Peter 3:19-22 stands as one of the most difficult passages to interpret and understand. Christians and scholars throughout church history have struggled with various interpretations surrounding what exactly happened to Jesus after he was crucified.[1] In fact, the great Reformer Martin Luther once said about this passage, “A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.”[2]

While we cannot be certain and dogmatic of any position, we can give our best exegetical analysis of what is happening in this text. The purpose of this paper is to bring clarity to the predominant issues in the text. 

 Two problems arise from a cursory reading of 1 Peter 3. First, what does it mean that Jesus went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison? Who are these spirits? What does it mean that Jesus “went”? How does the death of Jesus relate to the story of Noah? Second, what does it mean that Peter says, “baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you”? How does the story of Noah provide a typology for water baptism in the New Testament? How does baptism intersect with salvation? In order to fully argue my position on these two issues, a holistic approach must be taken, meaning that we will examine each issue exegetically, theologically, and historically. 

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Bible, Theology

Why You Need the Language of Lament At The End of 2020

January 4, 2021

Many of us are ending the year tired, weary, exhausted, and hopeless. The global pandemic has caused a multitude of losses: friendships, time with family, jobs, opportunities, graduations, rituals. The ‘”New Year, New Me” facade is glaringly absent as the hopelessness continues on for another year. Even for some of you who are seeking to turn over the new year leaf, eventually we have to come face-to-face with the trauma and suffering that we have endured this year. If you do not have the language of lament, you will be woefully deficient in dealing with the multiple heartbreaks from the last year.

Thankfully, God has not left us alone in our pain and sorrow—God has given us language to deal with our trauma: the language of lament. In fact, the wisdom literature is primarily comprised of lament language, which gives the people of God freedom to express their grief and sorrow towards God and to one another. Because of the effects of sin on the world, part and parcel of being human is dealing with pain and suffering. Lament gives you language to properly grieve the loss while at the same time trusting God in the pain.

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Bible, Theology

Why Don’t We Use The Apocrypha?

July 29, 2020

One of the dividing lines between Protestants and Roman Catholics is their view regarding the Apocrypha, primarily the OT Apocrypha books. For those that are unfamiliar with the debate, the Apocrypha is a collection of books that were written between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament (around 4th century BC to 1st century AD). There are also New Testament Apocrphyal books, such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Apocalypse of Peter, but both Roman Catholics and Protestants reject these are canonical.

For Christians, books of the Bible are canonical in the sense that they are regarded as sacred, written by human authors, but breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). In this regard, both Protestants and Roman Catholics view the 66 books of the Protestant Bible as Scripture, while the Roman Catholics include the Old Testament Apocryphal books as well (such as 1 & 2 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, Judith, Tobit, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, as well as some smaller works and even some additions to existing canonical books). Why then do Protestants (we) not regard the Apocrypha as Scriptural or canonical?

No Historical Attestation

If the Old Testament apocryphal books were regarded as Scripturally and canonically valid, we would assume that contemporaries of their writings would regard them as such. Historically, this is simply not the case. As Michael Kruger notes:

Although these books were known and used among the Jews of this time period, there is little evidence to suggest they were regarded as Scripture. Neither Josephus nor Philo—key sources for our understanding of the scope of the OT canon—used them as Scripture. In addition, no NT author (most of whom were Jews) cites even a single book from the Apocrypha as Scripture. And later rabbinic writers do not receive the Apocrypha, affirming only the Hebrew Scriptures as part of the Jewish canon (b. Baba Bathra 14–15).

Michael Kruger

Even after the early Jews rejected the Apocrphyal books as canonical, early Christians in the 1st and 2nd century did not regard the Apocrypha as canonical. In fact, it wasn’t until the 6th century that Augustine argued for its inclusion, which was later confirmed in the 16th century at the Council of Trent. Therefore, for the first 1500 years of Christian Church History, they were not included as Scriptural or canonical.

No New Testament Attestation

Can you guess how many times an Old Testament verse is quoted in the New Testament? 855. In all of these hundreds of cases, not a single one is quoted from the Apocrypha. If the early Christians, many of whom were previous Jews, relied upon the Apocrypha as Scriptural, would it not be fair to assume that they would use and refer to the Apocrypha in their New Testament writings? There is not a single instance of an Apocryphal text being cited as Scriptural according to New Testament authors.

Helpful But Not Scriptural

This is not to say that the OT Apocrypha is not helpful in any regard; I simply wish to communicate that it is not Scriptural or canonical. The Apocrypha gives us a view into the world of the inter-testamental period (the time between the Old and New Testaments). It helps us, like a good history textbook, to understand what was going on in the current political, social, and culturally moments of the time. It also helps us understanding the 1st century Jewish context more, as there were 400 years of historical development between the last writing of the Old Testament and when Jesus was born.

So, can we learn from the Apocrypha? Absolutely. Should we treat it as equal to the rest of the 66 books of the Bible? No. Early Jews, Christians, and Church Fathers did not regard these books are canonical and we would be unwise to reject their conclusions. Again, Michael Kruger is helpful:

The story of the OT and NT canon is a story that also involves “other” books. These other books have been a point of contention and controversy at various points within the history of Christianity. Moreover, these other books can raise concerns for modern day Christians who might wonder whether they’ve been improperly left out.But the historical evidence suggests we can have confidence in the content of both the OT and NT canon. Despite many years of wrangling over the OT Apocrypha, the Hebrew canon handed down by the Jews still stands as the Bible known by Jesus and the apostles and therefore is properly regarded as Scripture. Likewise, even though there has been much talk about “lost gospels,” these texts were written much later than our canonical ones and have little claim to historical authenticity. Thus, our biblical canon is complete. As Origen declared, “The net of the law and the prophets had to be completed . . . And the texture of the net has been completed in the Gospels, and in the words of Christ through the Apostles” (Comm. Matt. 10.12).

Michael Kruger
Bible, Theology, Uncategorized

Why Are There Missing Verses In My Bible?

July 27, 2020

In last few months, several members of Coram Deo (the church I pastor) have asked me about a Facebook post that has been floating around. The post accuses various modern translations and their publishers for removing verses from the Bible. If you haven’t seen it, I have attached a picture of the post, which has been shared 26,000 times:

On the surface, it is shocking. Would Zondervan and Crossway really remove Bible verses because it does not fit their agenda? Should we stop reading the ESV/NIV translations because of this? Is it even true? Many questions such as this have been asked of me of late and I thought I would explain what is going in the textual differences.


Textual criticism is not a phrase that gets thrown around in common Christian circles very often but it is incredibly important when understanding the textual differences that we see in different translations of the Bible. As Christians, we believe the Bible is God’s word, literally, breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16). At the same time, the Bible was written by human authors and then transmitted through human copyists. As humans, we are fallible and prone to error, even when our intentions are correct.

In order to preserve the accuracy of the original text, copyists took painstaking efforts to keep the text as pure as possible. But with any human effort, errors are a natural occurrence. For example, in grade school, we used to copy definitions from the back of textbooks onto sheets of paper. From time to time, we would either skip a line, repeat a word, or miss a punctuation mark. This is natural as our eyes glance from the textbook to the notebook. You probably also remember copying large chunks of text and accidentally repeating words or entire lines, forgetting key words, or misspelling difficult words.

The same is true in copying texts of Scripture. At times, a copyist would be transcribing a text like we would with a textbook open, glancing back and forth between the text and the writing. Other times, someone would be reading the text out loud and they would copying down what they heard. In both cases, small textual errors would develop as people would spell words wrong, repeat words or lines, or omit punctuation marks. Contrary to what secular theologians would assert, the number of key errors in the biblical text is incredibly small, less than 1%.

It is the job of a translation committee to gather these various manuscripts (which are dated from various time periods) and assess which ones display the most accuracy. This is done through multiple ways, such as finding the most difficult translation, finding the oldest manuscripts, and a host of other complex solutions. When we read this Facebook post then, is it right to claim that Zondervan and Crossway are leading a crusade against the Bible they publish?


Again, one of the ways translators choose the most accurate text is by date. For example, we all would intuitively understand that a copy of a text written in the 3rd century is probably far more accurate than one copied in the 13th century because there is a larger gap between when the original text was written and when it was copied. In other words, the more time that elapses in the copied manuscript, the more likely it is prone to error (a bit simplified but lets work with it for now). How does this impact the Facebook post in question?

The author of the Facebook quote claims that the KJV is superior to the ESV and NIV in accuracy because it has not removed the verses in question. In order to understand why these verses were removed, one has to understand the previous statements regarding textual criticism. You see, the KJV was translated and built off an outdated manuscript system, namely, the Textus Receptus. This manuscript system was developed by Erasmus in the 16th century, which was a Greek translation of the Latin Vulgate. At the time, these were the most updated manuscripts they possessed.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, we now have over 25,000 manuscripts (comprised of various Greek, Latin, and Syriac/Coptic translations). Simply put, the more data, the more accuracy. Furthermore, we now have manuscripts that date very early in comparison to its publication, compared to the Textus Receptus that used relatively outdated manuscripts (in today’s standards). Because of simply the amount of data now available through the thousands of manuscripts, translators have seen that previous translations did not provide the most accurate translation due to the manuscript deficiency that they possessed.


This leads us to finally deal with the problem at hand: where are the missing verses? If you were to open up the ESV or NIV translation to Matthew 18, you will notice that there is no verse 11, it simply goes from verse 10 to 12. You will also notice that every modern translation provides footnotes where verse 11 should be. Most translations will indicate that due to a lack of manuscript accuracy, these verses have been removed. The verses are missing because they were most likely not included in the original writing at all, which is demonstrated by textual criticism with updated manuscripts. The verses are still included in the KJV because it is still built on an outdated manuscript system.

Be not afraid, there is no coverup or theological conspiracy to undermine the accuracy of the Bible. On the contrary, the men and women who sit on translation committees for the majority of modern translations are godly, wise, and Bible-loving people that want to translate the Bible into vernacular English in the most faithful way possible. So for those questioning whether or not you should be using the ESV or NIV, you can have all confidence that God’s word is being preserved and sustained through the diligent and faithful work of translators in the 21st century.

Ministry, Theology

Coronavirus and Life

May 26, 2020

At the front of political and cultural discourse is a conversation about life, particularly, how to save and protect life in light of coronavirus. In our age of mounting divisive rhetoric, the ability to hold two positions in tension is of utmost importance. Over the past few months, I have noticed that there is a heightened sense of longing to protect and preserve life when it comes to coronavirus. Phrases such as, “Stop the spread! Flatten the curve! Stay home!” dominate everything from mainstream news to billboards. I first and foremost want to affirm that this falls in line with the biblical ideal—that we protect and preserve life, for all mankind has been made in the image of God. Every life is worthy of such honorable pursuit. 

Yet, the inability to have a charitable dialogue is stifling a broader view of what constitutes life. At this given moment, individuals in various positions are simply not listening to one another. One camp wants to continue to preserve life by containing the stay-at-home orders, while the other camp wants to open the country so that economic and emotional and mental health may prosper. Unfortunately, since we are unable to listen with humility and respond with charity, neither position gains traction but simply digs their heels in further. My hope and prayer for the church I serve (Coram Deo) is that God would shape us into a people that are slow to speak, quick to listen, and abundant in grace and charity. 

This all leads to my proposition: that in our current system, when the majority of Americans use the word “life,” particularly in the Covid-19 pandemic, the word is limited and stifled. What do I mean by that? The narrative has been all about protecting and preserving life, which, in this case, means physical life. Yet, we all know that simply being alive is not all that it means to be alive. We understand very acutely that the quality of life that we posses is in direct correlation to our value of “life.” For example, it is not for no reason that when we are in a terrible job or relationship we often use the phrase, “This job/relationship is killing me.” This is because the job/relationship is inflicting death upon our souls, even though we are still physically living. 

Personally, I want to do everything I can to help limit the spread of Covid-19 and therefore, protect and preserve physical life. At the same time, I want to acknowledge that the attempts to stave off physical death are also creating more physical, emotional, and spiritual death. In other words, while we may be protecting and preserving physical life, we may, unintentionally creating and mental health crisis that virtually does the same thing. A recent report from the head of one of California’s hospital’s trauma team recently noted that they have seen a year’s worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks. In a survey done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus is harming their mental health. Furthermore, “a federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered a more than 1,000 percent increase in April compared with the same time last year.” Is this really living? 

I understand that there are no clear-cut answers to the problems we are currently facing. Anyone who proposes simple solutions to the complexity that we are in right now is simply ill-informed. Yet, in our chanting of preserving life, let us not forget that life is more than physical living. How many more deaths by suicide will it take for us to realize that in our attempts to stave off death by illness, we may be creating an environment where death by self is the preferred option. May we begin to recapture the wisdom of old, that God has made man to love him with our whole beings—heart, mind, soul, and strength (Duet 6:6). 

So, yes, I want to unapologetically defend the lives of those who are currently living. I want to help in the endeavor to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases; I want to serve my fellow neighbors and citizens by being safe; I want to help people from physically dying. I also want to acknowledge that stay-at-home orders are also causing death—both in suicide and in emotional and mental health. As a people, God is inviting us to hold both of these options in tension rather than living in the faux-binary choice system that we are often pressed to believe.

Book Review, Books, Ministry, Theology

Book Review: Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine

December 9, 2019

There are few authors that I enjoy reading more than Kevin J. Vanhoozer, both from his academic and pastoral repertoire. Vanhoozer is a master wordsmith and a brilliant scholar, yet, at the same time, possesses a warm pastoral heart that desires to serve the church. This volume is no exception to the breadth of knowledge and pastoral sensitivity that Vanhoozer possesses. Every pastor would be encouraged, challenged, and blessed to pick up this latest volume in 2020.

In his latest book, Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine, Vanhoozer’s intention is “to help pastors fulfill their Great Commission to make disciples, with emphasis on the importance of teaching disciples to read the Scriptures…” (p. xi). Speaking personally, I was converted by simply picking up the Bible and reading, and thus, the intention of Vanhoozer’s latest book is a call to what I find most sacred in the Christian life: reading the Scriptures.

As a pastor, there are endless tasks to attend; the tyranny of the urgent really becomes tyrannical. In the day-to-day life of a minister, what should his time be consumed in? Vanhoozer argues that one of the most important tasks of a Christian pastor is to make disciples from doctrinal and theological positions, namely, from reading and obeying the Scriptures doctrinally. In other words, rather than leaving doctrine in the ivory-tower, the author argues that it is for the every-day Christian. Doctrine should inform not only what we believe but how we live as Christians in our present day.

Fitness and Doctrine

Vanhoozer does a beautiful job of exposing cultural idols and reforming them in a biblical perspective to show how discipleship is actually what people are longing for. Everyone believes in some sort of salvation or good news (gospel), the question is: which good news are you living for? Which vision of the good life have you been captured by? Vanhoozer argues that modern day culture has been infatuated with wellness and fitness, suggesting that this has become the da-facto god of our culture. From diet program, wellness seminars, workout sessions, clothing lines, and an overall desire to be fit, Vanhoozer notes that the language culture uses for the physical body can and should be adopted for discipleship in Christ’s body: the local church.

Rather than simply making people fit physically, pastors are called to “make disciples by training them to be fit for the purpose of godliness” (p. 44). Here Vanhoozer makes a helpful distinction, noting the sovereign grace of God in ultimately making (i.e. waking) disciples, “…while pastors may “make” (that is, train) disciples, only God can “wake” ( that is, create) them. Discipleship is about becoming who we are in Christ, and this is entirely, a work of God” (p. 44). Pastors then are called to make or train disciples the story of Scripture, which is a narrative of how we are to find the good life, and call them to obedience to that narrative. Just like the wellness culture calls for all-of-life devotion, so too does God call for all-of-life devotion, not in just beliefs but also in obedience: “Belief without behavior is empty. Genuine discipleship, in contrast, is the sustainable practice of hearing and doing freedom in Christ” (p. 45).

Doctrine for Discipleship

Often times doctrine and theology get a bad rap, supposing that they are irrelevant to modern life or simply impractical. Vanhoozer turns this idea on his head, noting that doctrine is everywhere (even outside of Christian circles), though it may not be labeled as doctrine. In other words, you are always being discipled by somebody or something; some grand narrative will be shaping your thoughts, values, and therefore, your actions. “Spiritual formation is happening all the time,” writes Vanhoozer, “Culture and society are in the full-time business of making disciples, not to life in Christ to a variety of lifestyles, all informed by culturally conditioned pictures of health, wellness, and fitness” (p. 63). Therefore, doctrine informs discipleship, meaning that the grand narrative of Scriptures gives us a lifestyle of how to live for God in this world, namely as “heralds and representatives of the Kingdom of God” (p. 64).

In a ministerial world dominated by businessmen, brand-ambassadors, and executives, Hearers and Doers calls pastors back to “recover their vocation as ministers of the word and reclaim Scripture and doctrine as means for making disciples” (p. 91). Rather than relying upon the latest fad or the best small group technique, ministers “need to recover anew a confidence and competence in the ministry of the word of God” (p. 99). Doctrine is not aloof from the Christian life, rather it is the fuel that drives the engine of the Christian life. Pastors need to recover the importance of doctrinal formation, Scriptural inculcation, and theological catechesis for the church as a whole.


For those looking for practical tips on how to create a discipleship system or program in their church, Vanhoozer will come up empty. But if you are looking for a biblically ground call for the pastorship, one that is marked by the ministry of the Word and Sacrament, Vanhoozer will leave your ink dry from the penned notes. Dripped with biblical language, culturally awareness, and the intricacies of daily Christian living, Hearers and Doers will refresh and encourage your soul to continue the hard work of making disciples by the Scriptures.

Bible, Theology

A Missing Emphasis in the Doctrine of Election

June 29, 2019

There are few topics quite like the doctrine of election that will split Christians into differing tribes. Introduce the topics of predestination, foreknowledge, and election on social media and the comment section will be populated even before you hit refresh. Sadly, this doctrine has often been the great dividing marker between the two proposed camps—Calvinism and Arminianism. While the doctrine of election has caused division of the years, both historically in the church and personally in my life, I believe that there is a missing emphasis in both camps. Regardless of where you land on this topic, I believe we can both learn a great deal from one of the greatest, albeit, unknown to many Christians, 20th century theologians and missiologists of our day—Lesslie Newbigin.

Before we get to Newbigin, I want to touch briefly on the nature of doctrine and the disparity on how things are systematized and communicated outside of the Bible. My exposure to the doctrine of election was through R.C. Sproul, who I owe a great deal of my early theological acumen to. Sproul lead me to the many of the great works I have come to cherish over the years: the Westminster Confession, Reformed Dogmatics by Bavinck, various Systematic Theologies, and a handful of others. Reflecting back upon my introduction to this doctrine (and in my camp, the Reformed faith), I have now come to realize the way in which this doctrine (and many others) was presented to me was not incorrect doctrinally, but rather incorrect in mode. In other words, the way in which the doctrine was described was foreign from the way the Bible actually dealt with the doctrine.

The Communication Problem of Theology

Theology is often painted as being cold, heady, and merely intellectual; and if we were to crack open Hodge’s Systematic Theology, sadly, you may find the accusations warranted. This is not to say that there is not much to cherish there, it is simply to say that theology often done in a systematic way does not engage the doctrines as the Bible often does—through story, drama, and historical narrative. In this case, election was always presented to be in this cold manner: God chooses some and doesn’t choose others, based upon his sheer foreknowledge, grace, and sovereignty. As soon as one states their position, debates roar, heels get dug in, and rarely, if ever, does fruitful conversation follow. How can we avoid the traps of describing a doctrine, that is so beautiful, without getting into endless debates that seem to harden rather than soften positions?

Cue Lesslie Newbigin, who will have no problem demonstrating that the way Westerners often discuss the doctrine of election is through individualism and pragmatism, rather than through the biblical storyline. If you were to ask an aspiring theologian (someone like myself in college, who had merely read the popular level writings of Sproul and Packer) where they turn to defend their doctrine of election, many would either go to Romans 9 or Ephesians 1. Do these passages speak to election? Absolutely. But if we jump straight there, we miss one of the most crucial texts for understanding election and its purpose in the world: Genesis 12.

Genesis 12: A Missional Doctrine of Election

In this passage, God calls a man named Abram to flee his country to the land that the Lord will show him. This is the beginning of the election or the calling of a people, namely, the nation of Israel. God has selected one man and one family from all the face of the earth as his chosen vessel. Now, the way in which we discuss election, the conversation may lead to various rabbit trails. Why did he choose Abram and not another family in the Ancient Near East? Should they have not have the choice to respond? Is it fair?

While the questions are perhaps warranted, the biblical storyline is not interested in answering the questions. Rather, Genesis 12 is going to answer the question we aren’t asking: What is God’s purpose in electing Abram? The answer comes in verse 2—Abram was chosen not so the blessing of election may terminate on his family, but may extend to the whole world. In other words, to use the biblical langue, he was blessed in order to be a blessing. Election (and salvation for that matter) is often extracted from the purpose and the biblical storyline and is reduced to merely discussions about who God chooses and who he doesn’t. Here is where Newbigin is so helpful:

“Too often election is understood strictly in terms of its benefits and the blessings of God’s salvation. Election, in this misunderstanding, is only for privilege and not for responsibility; election is so that the people of God might enjoy salvation, not be a means of salvation for the world.” –

Newbigin, Household of God, 111, emphasis mine.

You see, for Newbigin, election is not merely for the individual/family, it is also for the purpose of bringing the blessing of God to the rest of the world. Election then is directly tied to mission. And what is this mission? Newbigin would describe the mission of God nothing less than the cosmic renewal of all creation (for Newbigin, renewal could also be interchanged with salvation):

“The only way of proceeding in reveling and accomplishing the cosmic and corporate salvation of the end is by choosing a community to be the nucleus of his renewing work. God begins with some community, knits them back together, and restores the creational relationships fractured in the fall. He begins with a reconciled community and then incorporates others from outside into this community. In short, God’s people have been chosen to be reconciled to God, to each other, and to the nonhuman creation and to draw others into that reconciliation.”

Goheen, The Church and its Vocation, 31.

Therefore, the doctrine of election is not some cold, static, and distant doctrine where God simply chooses some and leaves others. Election is about the reconciliation of a people that are now given a mission to invite and call others into that community, which has its final goal in the restoration of all things. Again, Goheen notes ,”A missionary doctrine of election understands that God’s choice of a people is not simply for the town sake but also for the sake of the world.” Therefore, to be one of the elect—to be a Christian—is to be incorporated into the mission of God and to “bear God’s reconciling purpose for his whole world.”

This is what I think Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). Paul was able to endure hardships and suffering so that those outside the fold of God may be welcomed into the reconciliation offered by the death and resurrection of Jesus. For Paul, he may never have known who the elect were, but he knew that God would use his life (and the life of the church) to bring about the fulfillment of the cosmic salvation that he purposed.

Therefore, in this way, the biblical storyline informs and undergirds our doctrine of election. It is not merely about the choice of God—it is also about the purpose of God in election—bringing about the restoration, renewal, and shalom to the entire earth that the elect currently experience.

Bible, Theology

Why Sometimes a Literal Translation Is Not Sufficient

June 24, 2019

The preservation of the biblical text is a tenant of orthodox Christianity. Since the Bible was written not in English but in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, scholars have often wrestled with how to translate the biblical text in a way that is both faithful to the original while at the same time communicating relevantly to its audience. Regardless whether one is translating a biblical text or a non-biblical text, translation is an incredibly difficult task. We are all aware that certain languages have particular phrases, idioms, and word pictures that are simply hard to translate, despite the translators best attempts.

In the English language, we are privileged with several excellent translations, such as the English Standard Version (ESV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New International Version (NIV), and several others. These translations are often considered literal translations, or, more specifically, formal-equivalence translations, by which translators attempt to translate each word in the original language to an equivalent word in the English language. A different translation method is called the dynamic-equivalence approach, which seeks to message/meaning of the original language into equivalent modern English. For conservative evangelicals, we tend to pride ourselves on choosing and reading translations that are deemed literal, implying the preservation of the very words of the original.

Yet, the reality is that while often we are forced to choose between the two translation methods—because of the complexity of translation work—both approaches are actually appropriate in certain circumstances. In other words, there are instances when a literal translation, while correct in theory, is not sufficient in actually communicating the original meaning.

Luke 22:31-32: A Case Study

An analysis of Luke 22:31-32 shows this premise in action. Consider the rendering that the King James Version (KJV) puts forth:

31 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: 32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

Now, look at the way the ESV translate the verse, which is the translation I often use:

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Now, a comparative reading of the two texts would seem that both are virtually identical, except for the updated language in the ESV; but there are some difficulties with the ESV’s rendering. You see, the King James was written in a time in which English speakers still used the second plural form (you) and a second singular form (thy/thine), which means that the KJV can actually translate the text in a more accurate manner. You will notice in the KJV’s translation, the you (ὑμᾶς) is plural in verse 31, whereas in verse 32, Jesus begins to address Peter specifically with thee, thy and thou (σοῦ). If you read again the ESV’s translation, you will notice that in English, both verse 31 and 32 simply read “you.” While this technically is the literal translation (since we don’t have a plural you in modern English, unless your from the South and you use “y’all”), it is not sufficient for the intended meaning of the text. In this way, the formal-equivalence method fails us.

Turning to a different translation, we notice that the NIV actually captures the original meaning of the text through the latter approach (the dynamic-equivalence method):

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

You will notice that the NIV appropriately captures the meaning of the text by translating the plural “you” in verse 31 with “all of you,” while translating the singular “you” in verse 32 with “you” and “your.” Proponents of literal translation may fault the NIV for adding words into the text since the words “all” are not in the text. Yet, the evidence suggests that the NIV is actually more faithful in rendering the intended meaning of the Greek. In this way, literal biblical translations, while helpful in many scenarios, are also unhelpful in other scenarios.


The Incommunicable Attributes

December 31, 2018

To utter the word theology will arouse various feelings, thoughts, and reactions from different people; some will absolutely love the study of theology, others will cringe at the thought of theology. At times, students of the Bible can elevate theology and in the end loose doxology (worship); at other times, students of the Bible can elevate doxology and loose theology (drifting into idolatry). In the end, theology is incredibly important for our worship in order that we may praise God correctly and appropriately.

For some time now, I have noticed that the average church-goer does not seem to have an interest in theology. It is seen to be an area of study for pastors, missionaries, seminary students, or perhaps even “serious Christians.” In reality, all Christians, regardless of vocation or maturity, would benefit from the study of theology, since within the subject itself elevates our view of God. Perhaps the problem is more with the term than the subject. Regardless of the issue, my hope is to expose Christians to more fundamental theological concepts in short articles. The following is my attempt to present salient theological topics in a digestible yet satisfactory manner.


In theology proper (the doctrine of God, i.e. the study of God himself and his works), scholars spend significant space on the attributes of God, which are various properties in which God simply is. In other words, God does not have love, he is love. Within the attributes of God, theologians distinguish between the incommunicable and the communicable attributes; the former referring to the properties that belong to God alone (omniscience, transcendence, etc)—the latter referring to the properties that we possess, at least to some degree, vis-à-vis as a creature of God made in his image.1 For this article, we will discover what the incommunicable attributes are and how theologians categorize them.

When considering who God is, we have to recognize that we are completely unlike God. God is the first cause of all things, wholly self-sufficient in himself, is existent within himself, and is entirely unable to change or be changed. Herman Bavinck, writing in Reformed Dogmatics, notes, “God has a free, independent existence and life of his own that is distinct from all creatures.” 2

God alone bears his own names in which he shares with no one—YHWH being the supreme in this example.3. YHWH is the one who was, who is, and who will always be. In other words, God has no variation or change even in the slightest degree—he is wholly independent within himself. Again, Bavinck summarizes it well, “Thus, being all-sufficient in himself and not receiving anything from outside of himself, he is, by contrast, the only source of all existence and life, of all light and love, the overflowing fountain of all good.”4 After being redeemed out of Egypt, Moses sings, “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?” The answer: no one!

If you were to open a systematic theology book, you will discover that scholars tend to present the incommunicable attributes under distinct headings:

The Self-Existence of God

God is self-existence in the sense that his existence is not tied to anyone or anything but rather in himself. Therefore, there has never been a time in which God has not been—he always was, is, and will be. “God is self-existent, that is, He has the ground of His existence in Himself.”5 God is the uncaused being—one who exists wholly by himself by no causation. “All that God is, he is of himself.”6

The Immutability of God

God is entirely consistent in his character, ways, actions, and purposes: “it is that perfection of God by which He is devoid of all change, not only in His being, but also in his perfections, and in his purposes and promises.” 7 According to Bavinck, God can not and will not change: “If God were not immutable, he would not be God.” 8

The Infinity of God

The infinity of God is the perfection in which he is completely free from all limitations or hindrances. To say that God is infinite is another way of saying that God is eternal.9 God is also not confined to space, meaning that God is everywhere—no one can hide from him. The Lord alone is the creator, the possessor of heaven and earth, the Lord of all creation, in whom we all live and move and have our being, 10 as the Psalmist proclaims:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

– Psalm 139:7-9

The Unity of God

The last incommunicable attribute theologians describe is the unity of God, which is often differentiated in the unity of singularity and the unity of simplicity. 11 When I say that God has unity (or oneness) in singularity, I mean that there is only one divine being, and having the virtue of divine nature, there cannot be more than one God. Therefore, every other being derives its existence from him, through him, and to him. In other words, God alone is unique and shares his divinity with no one.

The unity of simplicity argues that God is not collection of composite parts but is simple (or one). The simplicity of God “contends that the first cause of all being [God alone] must be simple for the straightforward reason that complex or compound things depend upon parts that are more fundamental in being than themselves. And nothing is more primary in being than God.”12 In other words, a Boeing 747 is a complex design, made up millions of composite parts that function together to create a powerful airplane. God is simple in the sense that he is not dependent on any other composite parts to function or to be—he simply is within himself. To conclude, Steven Charnock summarizes it well:

God is the most simple being; for that which is first in nature, having nothing beyond it, cannot by any means be thought to be compounded; for whatsoever is so, depends upon the parts whereof it is compounded, and so is not the first being: now God being infinitely simple, hath nothing in himself which is not himself, and therefore cannot will any change in himself, he being his own essence and existence. – Steven Charnock

Featured, Hymns, Ministry, Seminary, Theology

Hymns We Should Sing More: Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted

April 27, 2017

I recently began a blog series entitled Hymns We Should Sing More, which seeks to edify the church with rich, biblical hymns. This is the eighth installment in this series. You can read the previous installments here.

All around the world, Christians gather for corporate worship and sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs as an act of worship to God. Specifically these hymns are full of rich biblical truths about God, mankind, salvation, the coming Kingdom and many other theological topics. Unfortunately, many Christians are unfamiliar with a vast number of theologically rich hymns.

When hymns are sung in a contemporary worship service, there is often a lack of repertoire of hymnology. This series, Hymns We Should Sing More, is a means of getting more Christians aware of the vast number of theologically rich hymns that we rarely, if ever, sing.

The hymn Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted  was written by Thomas Kelly in 1805. Set to somber music, Kelly has written masterfully about the death of Christ. The hymn exposes the true nature of our sin and guilt by showing the only remedy appropriate: the death of the Son of God. Churches would do well to sit under the weight of this hymn, drawing us deeper into the wounds of Christ, the Son of Man and Son of God.

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