Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Gospel for Kids

Evolution for everyone - and everything

Review From

Evolution_for_everyone In An Idiot’s Guide to Evolution, First Things author Stephen Webb discusses David Sloan Wilson's new book Evolution for Everyone (2007).

The dirty Darwinian secret is now out of the closet: If evolution is true, then it must be true about everything.

Creationists have long argued that Darwinists use their scientific theory as a cosmology, or "worldview," which they deny to the hilt, while all the time using it that way. But I think that they do so just to distance themselves from social Darwinism. But Wilson's book ends the farce, and admits that evolution is a way of thinking about everything that matters. Blech.

Here are some excerpts (my headings) from Webb's review of the book:

1. Why limit Darwinism to biology? By what logical/scientific rule?

Most Darwinians used to be very restrained about the relevance of their theory for cultural and moral issues, for obvious reasons. If evolution is true about everything, then randomness and competition are the foundations for the highest human ideals as well as the lowest organic life forms. Scientists have trouble enough restricting Darwinism to biology. What if that restriction is unscientific? What parents would want their children being taught that Darwinism explains not only speciation but also altruism?

2. Why Darwinian morality is a farce

The statement “The environment selects some beetles to eat their young” serves a function in biology similar to the function the statement “Nature is fallen” serves in theology. Both have explanatory power, but the biological statement tries to be descriptive, whereas the theological statement is clearly normative. Christianity teaches that nature is not what it God intended it to be, and thus nature alone cannot be a guide to moral behavior.

Without that normative claim, however, Darwinian philosophers are left with an environment that selects any kind of behavior as long as it gives a species a competitive advantage. If we do not eat our young when resources are scarce, it is only because nature has selected other strategies for our survival. It follows that morality must be either a heroic but ultimately fruitless struggle against our nature or a rationalization and mystification of self-interested behavior.

3. Darwinian efforts at peace can only come by enforced pluralism - i.e. the destruction of pluralism's dissenters.

“In principle, it is possible to completely eliminate violent conflict by eliminating its preferred ‘habitat,’ regardless of how rare or common it has been in the past.” He admits that a shared value system is a prerequisite for world harmony, but he thinks that “pluralism can be enshrined as a virtue and its suppression punished,” since “virtually any value system can be stabilized by rewards and punishments, as long as it is agreed upon by consensus.” If this leaves the reader thinking that Wilson embraces fascism as a way of enforcing pluralism in order to ensure world peace, he corrects this impression by arguing for the power of art to take the place of religious values.

4. If Darwinism becomes ridiculous outside of biology, what makes us think that it is not ridiculous inside of biology?

Perhaps Wilson’s ambition, which lies at the heart of Darwinism, has inadvertently demonstrated how empty evolution is. If it is this trivial when applied outside biology, why would we non-biologists imagine that it is deeper when it is restricted to biology? One cannot help but suspect that if evolutionary theory looks absurd, simplistic, and circular when applied to something as complex as religion, then it might look the same way when applied to biological organisms.

5. A syllogism on the vanity of the evolutionary perspective

If evolution is true about everything, then we are doomed to live in a world without truth, beauty, and goodness. If we are not doomed, then evolution is not true about everything. And if evolution is not true about everything, then there is good reason to think that it is not true about anything.

Sent in the Power of the Spirit

By Mark D. Roberts @

Part 6 of series: The Mission of God and the Missional Church

In my last post I showed that Jesus sent His followers into the world to replicate His own mission of making disciples. We who follow Jesus are to make more followers of Jesus.

It’s easy to accept our charge to do the ministry of Jesus without really thinking about what we’re doing. “OK,” we might say, “That’s just fine. We’re to do the ministry of Jesus. Great!” But when we stop and think about it, we have accepted an astounding and overwhelming mission, one that is seemingly impossible. If we take seriously our sending by Jesus to do His work, our hearts should pound and our knees should knock. How, in heaven’s name, are we to do what He did? Given our manifest human limitations, not to mention our sinfulness, how can we do the works of the divine Son of God?

Doing the ministry of Jesus is a bit like climbing Mt. Everest. This mountaineering adventure is so demanding that it almost exceeds human capabilities. The vast majority of people who attempt to climb Everest never make it to the top. The physical challenges associated with scaling this peak include miles of strenuous hiking, thousands of feet of climbing, negotiating glaciers and treacherous ice fields, and fighting the most extreme weather conditions on earth. Perhaps most difficult of all is the lack of oxygen near the summit of the mountain’s 29,028 feet. This region is called “the Death Zone” because of the harrowing conditions, especially the dearth of oxygen. If you and I were flown to the summit of Everest right now, we would pass out in a few minutes, and die shortly thereafter. There simply isn’t enough oxygen there to keep our bodies working.

Most climbers must use bottled oxygen to survive the ordeals of climbing Everest, though an increasing number of people climb without it. How is this possible? Through the wonder of acclimatization the human body is able to adapt to extreme oxygen deprivation. If you take enough time at high altitude, your body will adjust to the limitations of the air. So, climbers of Everest hike to base camp at “only” 17,000 feet. There they must wait for several weeks, making only short forays to higher altitudes. If they wait patiently, eventually their cardio-vascular systems will be empowered for the challenge ahead. But waiting is the key. If they rush ahead, the climbers will fail, and most probably die. Even bottled oxygen won’t help them. (Picture to the right: Tenzing Norgay, who, along with Edmund Hillary, participated in the first ascent on Everest.)

In a similar vein, the risen Jesus instructed His first followers to wait before beginning their mission of spreading the good news:

And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven (Luke 24:49).

No matter how enthusiastic the first disciples might have been, no matter that they had spent three years with Jesus and had conversed with Him after His resurrection, they were not yet ready for the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical challenges of proclaiming the good news of Christ to all nations. They had to wait in Jerusalem until their preparation for ministry was complete.

Yet, unlike climbers being acclimatized on Mt. Everest, the disciples were not waiting for some natural process to ready them for their assignment. They needed “power from heaven” and nothing less. Without God’s own power, given through the Holy Spirit, no one can successfully do God’s work on earth. In a sense, the wind of the Spirit is like the bottled oxygen that enables climbers to reach the top of Mt. Everest. And, though a few can scale this peak without additional oxygen, we cannot ever succeed in our mission without the Spirit. But don’t despair! If you have put your trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, then you have already received the Holy Spirit. You have an unlimited supply of God’s oxygen! Unlike the first disciples in Jerusalem, you do not have to wait for anything. We have been empowered. We have been sent. We are ready to go.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Four Problems with Evolution

This video, the first in a series that discuses the debate of creation vs. evolution, talks about the four major problems that throw doubt onto the theory of evolution.

Bad movies are so good

by Harrison Scott Key @

Would you go see movies by a director that served his audiences healthy doses of conservative values? You know, movies where a man is tempted to lose his virginity but eventually overcomes temptation to wait for marriage. Or movies where a character learns how to grow up and man up and take care of his child and the child’s mother? Oh, I bet you would. Except that you wouldn’t tell your pastor. The films, which you’ve already figured are The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, are just a little too vulgar – if not completely honest:

In each of the films, the hero is nearly led astray by buddies who tempt with things like boxes of porn, transvestite hookers and an ideology about the ladies possibly learned from scanning Maxim while scarfing down Pop-Tarts. By the end,” however, the friends are exposed “as well meaning but comically pathetic” and the hero ends up doing the right thing.
I suspect the vulgarity masks the conservatism of these films’ themes. But then, someone once said that all comedy is inherently conservative: exposing fakery for fakery and calling for a return to authentic virtue. But this doesn’t go over in scriptwriting classes too well.

Messages from John Piper

Listen to Piper on living in a culture centered around entertainment (2 min).

Listen to Piper's message from this afternoon at the New Attitude Conference: "Discern What Pleases God—Himself." Challies, the Rebelution, and the New Attitude Blog all offer summaries.

Listen to Piper's message from last night at the New Attitude Conference: "Discern What Pleases God—Personal Obedience."

"Promiscuous Teleology" -- Is This Why So Many Reject Evolution?

By Albert Mohler @

A pair of psychologists at Yale University have a new explanation for why so many people reject the theory of evolution -- our minds are hard-wired from birth to see design in the world around us. Paul Bloom is a psychologist at Yale and Deena Skolnick Weisberg is a doctoral candidate in psychology. Together, they argue that the roots of an anti-evolutionary impulse lie in childhood.

Their argument, found in the essay, "Why Do Some People Resist Science?" is published at Edge: The Third Culture, a Web site associated with a group known as The Reality Club. That organization, by the way, humbly describes itself as including "some of the most interesting minds in the world."

Those interesting minds are interested in knowing why so many Americans reject the theory of evolution. Bloom and Weisberg acknowledge that most evolutionary scientists assume that the rejection of evolution is rooted in theistic beliefs and a lack of scientific knowledge. If these were the reasons for this rejection, the advance of secularization and the massive increase in scientific knowledge should overcome this rejection. It is not happening that way.

As the authors explain:

We believe that these assumptions, while not completely false, reflect a misunderstanding of the nature of this phenomenon. While cultural factors are plainly relevant, American adults' resistance to scientific ideas reflects universal facts about what children know and how children learn. If this is right, then resistance to science cannot be simply addressed through more education; something different is needed.

They go on to propose a different understanding of the problem:

The main source of resistance to scientific ideas concerns what children know prior to their exposure to science. The last several decades of developmental psychology has made it abundantly clear that humans do not start off as "blank slates." Rather, even one year-olds possess a rich understanding of both the physical world (a "naïve physics") and the social world (a "naïve psychology"). Babies know that objects are solid, that they persist over time even when they are out of sight, that they fall to the ground if unsupported, and that they do not move unless acted upon. They also understand that people move autonomously in response to social and physical events, that they act and react in accord with their goals, and that they respond with appropriate emotions to different situations.

These intuitions give children a head start when it comes to understanding and learning about objects and people. But these intuitions also sometimes clash with scientific discoveries about the nature of the world, making certain scientific facts difficult to learn. As Susan Carey once put it, the problem with teaching science to children is "not what the student lacks, but what the student has, namely alternative conceptual frameworks for understanding the phenomena covered by the theories we are trying to teach

This is a fascinating argument. Bloom and Weisberg believe that the minds of children are, in effect, hard-wired to see design in nature and the world around them. The "intuitive psychology" they describe means that children infer a design in the world they experience. They assume an intelligence behind what they observe, and assume that a creative intelligence is a necessary part of any explanation of why things are as they are.

This, they argue, leads to a basic resistance to science:

Our intuitive psychology also contributes to resistance to science. One significant bias is that children naturally see the world in terms of design and purpose. For instance, four year-olds insist that everything has a purpose, including lions ("to go in the zoo") and clouds ("for raining"), a propensity that Deborah Kelemen has dubbed "promiscuous teleology." Additionally, when asked about the origin of animals and people, children spontaneously tend to provide and to prefer creationist explanations.

Just as children's intuitions about the physical world make it difficult for them to accept that the Earth is a sphere, their psychological intuitions about agency and design make it difficult for them to accept the processes of evolution.

Just as obviously, Bloom and Weisberg, speaking on behalf of the scientific establishment, assume that there is no purpose or design behind the cosmos. Thus, to use their own examples, there is no purpose for lions or clouds. Their naturalistic worldview leaves no other option. Lions and clouds just are, and they must be explained in purely materialistic terms.

These psychologists also deny any mind-body dualism and any notion that humans possess any "soul" or consciousness apart from the merely physical and biological operations of the brain as an organ. As with evolutionary theory, they are frustrated that the general public rejects this worldview.

They go on to argue that deference to authority has much to do with this. When the public understands that these scientific claims are contested, they are likely to defer in their judgment to others. What frustrates Bloom and Weisberg is that so many persons defer to non-scientists.

From their article:

In sum, the developmental data suggest that resistance to science will arise in children when scientific claims clash with early emerging, intuitive expectations. This resistance will persist through adulthood if the scientific claims are contested within a society, and will be especially strong if there is a non-scientific alternative that is rooted in common sense and championed by people who are taken as reliable and trustworthy. This is the current situation in the United States with regard to the central tenets of neuroscience and of evolutionary biology. These clash with intuitive beliefs about the immaterial nature of the soul and the purposeful design of humans and other animals -- and, in the United States, these intuitive beliefs are particularly likely to be endorsed and transmitted by trusted religious and political authorities. Hence these are among the domains where Americans' resistance to science is the strongest.

While the authors acknowledge that the public is not stupid, they do believe that the public is wrong. In an incredibly revealing pair of sentences, they argue:

The community of scientists has a legitimate claim to trustworthiness that other social institutions, such as religions and political movements, lack. The structure of scientific inquiry involves procedures, such as experiments and open debate, that are strikingly successful at revealing truths about the world.

So we are supposed to see modern science as holding "a legitimate claim to trustworthiness" that other authorities -- including religious authorities -- lack. In the end, they propose that scientists combat resistance to science by convincing the public that scientists are worthy of trust.

I am not a scientist, but I would suggest that this falls short of a winning argument. The attorney who asks a jury, "What are you going to believe, my argument or what you see with your own eyes?," has a fool for a client.

Bloom and Weisberg have written a truly fascinating essay. One of the most interesting aspects of their argument is the absolute dichotomy it affirms on the issue of design -- you either believe in design and purpose or not. This is exceedingly clarifying.

In other words, this essay leads to the inevitable conclusion that you must indeed choose between Sunday School and modern science. If modern science insists that lions and clouds are purely accidental products of purely natural causes, this sets modern science in direct and unavoidable conflict with the claim that God made lions and clouds for a purpose -- and ultimately for His own glory.

The earliest lessons taught in Sunday School are filled with what Deborah Keleman calls "promiscuous teleology" -- the teaching that God's design lies under every aspect of nature. The hard-wiring for design these psychologists identify as the problem may well be yet another sign of the imago Dei -- the image of God that distinguishes humanity from all other creatures (another claim directly rejected by the scientific establishment).

This is precisely what Bloom and Weisberg, speaking for the scientific community, reject out of hand. These authors make that point clearly. Their argument also shows once again why "theistic evolution" is an incoherent proposal. The dominant model of evolution rejects any claim of design -- end of argument.

Many polls indicate that a majority of Americans reject the dominant evolutionary theory and believe in some form of divine creation. This frustrates the evolutionary scientists to no end. But they are asking Americans to reject what they learned in Sunday School in favor of a theory that insists that this the universe is a great cosmic accident. It's not just children whose brains are hard-wired to reject that.

The Deity of Jesus

David Sherrill compiles scriptural evidence of Christ's Deity as it exists in the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation (NWT). Among many, many verses:
Is 6:1-5 with John 12:37-41 Isaiah's vision of Jehovah's glory is applied by John to Jesus in verse 41. He says Isaiah saw his glory.

Sent by Jesus to Continue His MissionSent by Jesus to Continue His Mission

By Mark D. Roberts @

Part 5 of series: The Mission of God and the Missional Church

In my last two posts I summarized the mission of Jesus. In a nutshell:

1. Jesus was sent by God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
2. Jesus was sent to proclaim the good news.
3. Jesus was sent to enact the good news.
4. Jesus was sent to form a community of the good news.
5. Jesus was sent to consummate the good news through His death and resurrection.

By dying upon the cross for our sin and by rising from the dead in victory over sin, Jesus fully activated the good news. We can now be reconciled to God and live forever in unbroken fellowship with God. We can begin already to experience the new creation, even as we wait for the complete renewal still to come (2 Cor 5:16-21). Yet the once-never-to-be-repeated work of Jesus in dying and rising did not finish His ministry on earth. That ministry was to continue through the community of His disciples whom Jesus sent to complete His work.

The writer of Acts of the Apostles, the same Luke who wrote the third gospel, begins His account of the early Christian mission in a most curious way:

Dear Theophilus: In my first book I told you about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he ascended to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions from the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1).

Luke says that his first book, the Gospel of Luke, shows us “everything Jesus began to do and teach.” Acts of the Apostles, therefore, must be the chronicle of that which Jesus continued to do and teach through those who believed in Him and were filled with His Spirit. The book of Acts of the Apostles might better be named: The Acts of Jesus through His Apostles.

The end of Matthew’s Gospel makes this same point in different language. As the disciples of Jesus gathered around Him after His resurrection, He said:

I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt 28:18-20).

Jesus sent His inner core of disciples into the world for the purpose of making more disciples. These new followers of Jesus would not only believe in Him, but also would obey all the commands Jesus gave to His first disciples. The second generation of disciples were to make more disciples, who would make more disciples, who would make more disciples, and so forth until all nations are filled with disciples of Jesus. (In the picture to the right, the Blues Brothers are “on a mission from God,” or missio dei in Latin. HT: Tall Skinny Kiwi)

We who believe in Jesus are somewhere down this chain of discipleship, perhaps a hundred links or more from the original command to make disciples. As disciples or apprentices of Jesus, we are called to do that which He commanded to His original team, such as:

Go and announce . . . that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received! (Matt 10:7-8).

Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other (John 13:34).

But, whereas the first disciples were to minister only among their fellow Jews while Jesus was on earth, after the resurrection they – and we – are sent out to all nations. Jesus explained this sending quite succinctly: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).

We who follow Jesus are a sent people, even as Jesus was sent into the world by His Heavenly Father. We are a community sent on a mission together: to keep on doing the ministry of Jesus so that all people and all creation might experience the reconciliation of God. God has designed the church of Jesus Christ to be a “missional” fellowship. The word “mission” comes from the Latin word missio, which means “having been sent.” Since we have been sent to do God’s work, we are a “missional” community together. (For a thorough treatment of the church as “missional,” see Darrell Guder and Lois Barrett, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America.)

Christians have often used this language differently, to identify as “missionaries” those whom we send to far away places to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Thus, these so-called missionaries are doubly sent, having been sent by God and by the church. But this language has sometimes obscured the fundamental missional calling of the whole church together and every individual member. If we think of ourselves primarily as sending others away to do “missions,” then we may forget that we also have been sent by God into our particular segment of the world to fulfill God’s mission right where we are.

For example, I rejoice in the fact that my own church has a long history of support for many “missionaries” who serve throughout the world. We have always cared deeply about “missions,” thank God! But at times we have overlooked our own mission right on our doorstep. From God’s point of view, we have been sent to Irvine, California to be a disciple-making community. We have been sent to continue the ministry of Jesus, to proclaim and to demonstrate the good news that God’s reign has come through Jesus, and to invite people to be reconciled to God. If we support “missionaries” without being “missional” ourselves, then we have fallen short of God’s call to us. (For this reason, we have tended to leave behind the word “missionary” in favor of the more accurate “mission partners.”)

In my next post I’ll speak more about how God equips and empowers us for His mission in the world.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Veggie Tales Archibald Asparagus

Jehovah's Witness Hermeneutics

From Wayne Shih @

Jason Vaughn left a comment asking, "Have you found anything on JW Hermeneutics? The ones I have dealt with out here have a very interesting way of interpreting...." Here's an excerpt from an article that I came across:
With doctrine, the Witness expositors recognize that "on the surface" many Bible verses clearly contradict the teachings of the Society. These verses are therefore "spiritualized" and often interpreted to mean precisely the opposite of what they actually say! With prophecy, this "spiritualized" method enables Watchtower theologians to wrest the application of Biblical prophecies from the people to whom they were originally given (the nation Israel, for example) in order to apply them to "Jehovah's modern-day organization."

Frequent use of this allegorical or "spiritualized" method of interpretation also creates another convenient situation for the Society. If much of Scripture is to be applied "spiritually," or "symbolically," then how are we to know how to interpret the Bible at all? How are we to know which passages are to be understood "spiritually" and which are to be taken literally? Hence arises the need for a special class of Bible interpreters, the "faithful and discreet slave class." The average Witness himself is very careful not to accept the Bible's teachings at face value. He will instead look to the "slave class" to provide all necessary interpretation for him.

Is this a fair assessment? In my experience, I've had Jehovah's Witnesses challenge my interpretation of a passage by saying that it's from Revelation and therefore has to be interpreted symbolically. At that point I question them on why they take the 1000 year reign, the 144,000, and the imprisonment of Satan (which are found only in Revelation) "literally."

Update: Jehovah's Witnesses and Luke 23:43: A Case Study in Watchtower Interpretation by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.

A Primer on the Deity of Christ

An Article
by: John Gerstner
view as: Webpage PDF Word

What It Means to Love God

by Wayne Shih @

From John Piper's book Taste and See (pp. 203-204):
What is love to God? Some reduce it to doing things in obedience to God because John 14:15 says, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." But that is not what the text says. It says that obedience will result from love. It does not say that obedience is love. Nor does 1 John 5:3 contradict this when it says, "This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments," because the next phrase is to be taken with it: "and His commandments are not burdensome." In other words, love is not just the doing but the doing from a certain kind of heart that makes the doing "not burdensome."

Piper goes on to refute another expression of love for God which has only to do with acts of willpower. Then he writes:
So what then is love to God if not mere action or mere willpower? Here is the way St. Augustine defined it over sixteen hundred years ago: "I call [love to God] the motion of the soul toward the enjoyment of God for his own sake, and the enjoyment of one's self and one's neighbor for the sake of God" (On Christian Doctrine, iii, x, 16). That, I think, is a very good definition. Unlike the other two definitions suggested above, delight in God is at the heart of the definition.

How Sin Does Its Work

By Brian G. Hedges @

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
(Hebrews 3:12-13 ESV)

Nothing is more critical to our ongoing progress in holiness than maintaining genuine communion with God in our souls. We enjoy this fellowship with God as our hearts exercise faith upon the person and work of Christ and experience the enlivening influences of the grace and power of the Spirit in our hearts.

The primary means of keeping this faith alive are prayer and meditation. I don’t mean any legalistic notion of a daily quiet time, which can so easily become an empty form or duty, but rather the ongoing practice of God’s presence which is cultivated by frequent retreats with the Lord where we speak to him (in prayer) and he speaks to us (through the Word).

When communion with God ceases, it is invariably because our hearts have become hard. Where once there was a genuine openness and tenderness towards the Lord, now there are calluses on the soul. Sin does its deceiving and hardening work; and the soul is left in a hardened condition, adverse to communion with God.

So, the Scriptural command to “take care . . . lest there be in any of [us] an evil, unbelieving heart” is both urgent and important. “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Daily mutual exhortation is needed, because sin can so quickly deceive and harden.

So, how does sin do its work? When am I in danger of being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin? Let me offer four insights, which, though in my own words, I have drawn from John Owen’s book on indwelling sin.[i]

1. Sin deceives and hardens the heart by taking advantage of the weakness of the flesh and the weariness of the body. Jesus said, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). I have learned that I am seldom more vulnerable to temptation than when I am physically exhausted. When my body is tired, sin seizes the opportunity and says, “You deserve a break today! Come on – pamper yourself! You’ve earned it.”

The temptation is real because the need is great. Sometimes we genuinely need to “come away . . . and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). But sin can hijack the valid need for rest and recreation for its own deceptive ends. When the need for rest with one’s family gets transposed into an excuse for indulging in illicit sexual fantasies, sin has done its work. The soul is deceived, the heart is hardened, and communion with God is broken.

2. Sin deceives and hardens the heart by distracting us with other good and necessary responsibilities. We have many responsibilities in life. If we are not careful, we can become swamped with the pressures and responsibilities of working hard in our vocations, meeting the needs of our families, serving people in our church and community, and maintaining our homes and property. All these are good and necessary things. But they are not the main thing.

When Martha was anxiously attending to her household duties and complained to Jesus of Mary’s negligence in helping, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). In normal circumstances, God gives us enough time to meet all of our responsibilities without neglecting to care for our souls and maintain communion with God. If we find ourselves overcommitted, we should repent and reorder our priorities.

But it is also possible that busy-ness is the by-product of barrenness. The distraction of “many things” can be a thin cover for the hollowness of soul that comes from neglecting the “good portion” of sitting at Jesus’ feet. Brothers and sisters, beware of busy-ness!

3. Sin deceives and hardens the heart by substituting other spiritual duties for the personal and private work of watching the heart and maintaining fellowship with God. As a pastor, I live much of my life doing “spiritual” things like leading in public prayer, reading the Scriptures, and preaching sermons. Sin deceives by suggesting that since I’ve prayed at church, I need not pray in private. Or, since we had family devotions, personal time in the Word can be safely skipped.

This is a subtle danger that fails to take into account the unique importance of personally seeking the Lord through prayer and meditation. There is heart work to be done alone that simply cannot be done in public. As valuable as public spiritual duties are, they are no substitute for personal spiritual disciplines.

4. Sin deceives and hardens the heart by making empty promises to seek the Lord later. Procrastination is one of sin’s greatest weapons. If we can be drawn away from the immediate conviction to pray, it will take little to keep us from prayer later. How many of us, feeling the strong impulse to spend significant time in the Word or prayer, have put it off for a more convenient time – only to later find ourselves without motivation?

The deceptive methods of sin are many: exhaustion, distraction, substitution, procrastination. So what is the remedy? The passage suggests two. First, “Take care” of your soul. Watch and pray. Practice the presence of God. Beware of the slow, indiscernible encroachment of unbelief. Be diligent in availing yourself of the means of grace. Second, “Exhort one another every day.” Stay connected to a community of believers who can help watch your soul. Let your small group in on your struggles and learn to receive their counsel and exhortation. Be a part of a mutual admonition society.

[i] John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, edited by Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006) 306-315.

Book Review—The Little Handbook to Perfecting the Art of Christian Writing

by RoseyDow @

Goss, Leonard, and Don Aycock. The Little Handbook to Perfecting the Art of Christian Writing. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2006. 267 pp., $14.99/paperback

(Review copy courtesy of B&H Publishing)

perfecting2.jpgPurchase: B&H Publishing, CBD

Special Features: The back of the book features a sample style guide, which is an excerpt from The Little Style Guide to Great Christian Writing and Publishing, Leonard G. Goss and Carolyn Stanford Goss (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2004).

ISBNs: 0805432647 / 9780805432640

LCCN: BR44 .G66 2006

DCN: 808.0662 GOSS

Subject(s): Christian Literature, Authorship, Publishing

Leonard G. Goss is senior acquisitions editor at Broadman & Holman Publishers. He has led the editorial efforts at Crossway Books, Zondervan, and the Evangelical Book Club. Goss and his wife live in Franklin, Tennessee.

Don M. Aycock is a prolific author and seminar leader who speaks nationally on the topics of writing, prayer, men’s issues, and ministry. He also pastors Liberty Baptist Church in Palatka, Florida.

The Little Handbook reveals an insider’s view of the Christian publishing industry: how the market functions and how authors function within it. By revealing the step-by-step processes involved in publishing, Goss and Aycock seek to create a positive synergy between the publishing industry and the freelance author by increasing the author’s understanding of the publisher’s challenges, risks, and expectations.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

How to Listen to a Sermon

By Derek Thomas @

Sermons! They are the stuff of jokes! Like this on, which makes the rounds in different guises: “Barbara remains in the hospital and needs blood donors for more transfusions. She is also having trouble sleeping and requests tapes of Pastor Jack's sermons.”

Last Sunday evening I preached on that passage in Acts 17 where the Bereans are said to have “received the word with eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things [what they had heard paul preach] were so” (Acts 17:11). They knew how to listen to a sermon!

Which leads me to ask the question, How do you listen to a sermon? Or, perhaps better still, How should I listen to a sermon?

Interestingly, George Whitefield addressed this topic in the mid-seventeenth century in a sermon based on the words of Jesus in Luke 8:18, “Take care how you hear.”[1] I summarize (and, to be honest, update) what Whitfield said in six points:

  1. Come out of a sincere desire to know what God has to say to you. Sermons are not for entertainment. They are to reform our hearts and teach us our duty towards God and men.

  1. Give diligent heed to the things that are spoken. Listen as you would to the voice of your president in the Oval Office and remember, the King of Kings demands even more respect! The stuff of sermons concerns eternal matters and not just the things of this world.

  1. Guard you heart against prejudice to the minister. Jesus could do mighty acts in Chorazin and Bethsaida because of their prejudice against him (Matt. 11:21). Even when ministers may urge something they themselves have not been enealed to do well, don’t refuse the urging on that account. If what they urge is biblical, receive as though Jesus were the one who spoke.

  1. Guard your heart at over veneration of the minister. It was the Corinthian evil that they began to prefer one preacher to another openly with terrible consequences for the body of Christ. Though one may minister to you more than another, respect both for what God does through them to the body of Christ.

  1. Make particular application to your own hearts of everything that is delivered. When our Savior spoke at the Last Supper that one of his own would betray him, all the disciples applied to his own heart, saying: “Lord, is it I?” (Matt. 26:22). Beware of that roving eye that says in a sermon, “That was meant for him” or “that was meant for her.”

  1. Pray to the Lord, before, during, and after sermon. Pray that the minister might be endued with power, boldness to declare the whole counsel of God and not be intimidated by any. Even Paul needed prayer “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph. 6:19-20).

Whitefield concludes: “If only all who hear me this day would seriously apply their hearts to practice what has now been told them! How ministers would see Satan, like lightning, fall from heaven, and people find the Word preached sharper than a two-edged sword and mighty, through God, to the pulling down of the devil’s strongholds!”

[1] The sermon (number 28) can be found in The Works of Reverend George Whitefield (E. & C. Dilly, London: 1771).

Hymn for Pentecost: Creator Spirit, by Whose Aid

Creator Spirit, by whose aid
the world’s foundations first were laid,
come visit every humble mind;
come, pour thy joys on human kind;
from sin and sorrow set us free,
and make us temples worthy thee.

O Source of uncreated light,
the Father’s promised Paraclete,
thrice holy Fount, thrice holy Fire,
our hearts with heavenly love inspire;
come, and thy sacred unction bring
to sanctify us while we sing.

Plenteous of grace, come from on high,
rich in thy sevenfold energy;
make us eternal truths receive,
and practice all that we believe;
give us thyself, that we may see
the Father and the Son by thee.

Immortal honor, endless fame,
attend the Almighty Father’s Name;
the Savior Son be glorified,
who for lost man’s redemption died;
and equal adoration be,
Eternal Paraclete, to thee.

Words: John Dryden, 1693

Voice of Truth Worship Video

Why God gave you parents, etc.

by Dan Phillips @

(This reflection was sparked by musing on Proverbs 24:19-20.)

Let's say you are about to embark on a journey you've never taken before. Let's say it is a high-risk journey. How do you prepare?

Well, you get a good map, and you study it. You get a ruler, maybe. You are here, and you want to get there. So you measure out which is the shorter course between these two points. You think you've found your route. It is short, you feel that you've considered every alternative, and this looks like the best way to get there.

Are you ready?

What if you know people who've already gone the route you're considering? What if they've already gone from Point A to Point B? Would it be smart to ask them? And, having asked, to listen? Of course it would — unless they're stupid, treacherous, or mean you harm.

So say you ask them, and they say, "Oh boy, do not go that way. It looks great when it's a line on paper, but you have no idea. It is a one-way road, for one thing. It is narrow, and winding. The road is full of pot-holes and sheer drop-offs you can't see until you've already gone over them. There is no need to go that way. We can show you three other ways, but for mercy's sake, do not go that way!"

Do you shrug it off, say "Thanks," and go with your paper-knowledge?

You do... if you're a fool. Consider Proverbs 22:3—"The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it."

One level of application is, I think, plain. But what if you're not "prudent" (`arúm) in the sense of shrewd, experienced, savvy? Perhaps it is because you are "simple." This is the word petî, so often found in Proverbs, generally translated simple or naive. This is the young man who simply has not had the years and experience to build a frame of reference by means of convictions tested by time and trial. He isn't yet settled hither or thither; he isn't yet wise, nor a scoffer.

What does such a young woman or man need? He needs wise folks who have had and used that time, who have built that framework and tested it out.

Now, Proverbs itself supplies that need. Solomon states at the outset that he was intending the book "to give prudence to the simple" (Proverbs 1:4, using the same two roots noted above). So the study of Proverbs itself, as well as of the rest of the Bible, is essential in the building of a prudent framework.

But what does Proverbs itself say, as well? Over and over it says "Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching" (Proverbs 1:8), "My son, keep your father's commandment, and forsake not your mother's teaching" (Proverbs 6:20), "Listen to your father" and "do not despise your mother" (Proverbs 23:22) , "My son, give me your heart" (Proverbs 23:26), and so on.

Why does it do this? For one reason, because Solomon took seriously God's own counsel to give great weight to father and mother (cf. 4:3f.). There is a rich, broad, and deep Biblical teaching on this subject: please read A word to Christian yoots.

Another reason is the nature of youth. Young people by definition are full of confidence and vigor. They want to conquer the world. They think they can. They see themselves (often) as so much smarter than those old, dull-witted folks who keep trying to talk to them. They've got it all worked out. So they don't think they need to listen to their parents, etc.

But they do. So Solomon tells them. And tells them, and tells them.

But also, there is need to listen to those with experience that you don't have. This is part of why Proverbs repeatedly admonishes "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice" (Proverbs 12:15), "By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom" (Proverbs 13:10), "Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed" (Proverbs 15:22); " Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future" (Proverbs 19:20).

Nor is that in particular peculiar to the young. When I embarked on Career Plan B (temporary, I pray), I became what is derisively and deservedly called a "paper MCSE." That means that I did a bunch of studying, took some nasty tests, and got various computer certifications — but virtually the only experience I had was that of studying for the tests!

And so in my first positions, I leaned crushingly heavily on some extraordinarily patient people who, unlike me, had experience. If I had refused to do that, I would have been a forty-plus-year-old fool.

But is Solomon counseling us to be slaves to every latest bit of advice we get? Is he binding us to slavish obedience to foolish, evil, malicious parents? Of course not.

His God-breathed counsel grows out of the whole Canon, and out of the book's particular recurring theme: consider the end. Again and again Solomon says, "I know this path looks great at its outset: but let me tell you where it leads...."

Now, in some cases, one does not need experience to tell this. Are you tempted to adultery? You don't need to ask someone who has committed adultery whether or not this is a smart move. God says, in so many words, "Bridge out!" That's all the "experience" we need.

But what of life's huge, major decisions where there is no Divine dictum, no "Thou shalt/shalt not"?

Those are the ones where we most need the framework of Divine revelation, and some advice or counsel from wise, godly, experienced folks.

And that's why God gave you a Mommy and a Daddy.

But the title says "etc.," and that is because that is also why He gave you pastors, and great writers of ages past, and godly friends.

Now, to anticipate a certain question: "What if my ____ is foolish, ungodly, unbelieving, or means me harm?"

That will complicate it greatly. You still may glean something. If they're your parents, you still must respect their position, and honor them in every way you can.

But if your parents/friends/advisors are not foolish, ungodly, or malicious, you're a fool if you don't seriously consider their counsel.

The only cure for naïveté is a frame of reference by means of convictions tested by time and trial. Young man, young woman, you don't have it yet.

That's why God gave you parents — et cetera!

(And sometimes we old guys at Pyro get to try to be your "et cetera"!)

Dan Phillips's signature


By Nathan Williams @

AssuranceThe topic of assurance of salvation has become a fascinating topic to me over the last 6 months. It all began when I took a class on the writings of Jonathan Edwards and the teacher said that he normally tells his students that if they read Religious Affections by Edwards and don’t doubt their salvation, they might not be a Christian. When I was much younger I remember an evangelist coming to my church and telling us exactly how he felt we could gain assurance of salvation. He said that what we needed to do was write the date when we made a decision for Christ in the front of our Bibles. Then, when Satan would tempt us or doubts would arise, we could flip open our Bibles and say “See, look at that date, I made a decision for Christ and I even have it written down inside my Bible!”

One of the more interesting aspects of assurance of salvation is the difference in the way Scripture tells us to evaluate the salvation of those around us and the way we evaluate our own salvation. Ultimately, it is impossible to be sure of the salvation of another. However, we do have certain criteria from Scripture with which to assess whether or not spiritual life exists in someone else. In Matthew 7:17-18 Jesus tells us that good trees produce good fruit and bad trees produce bad fruit. In some ways it is quite simple to evaluate the spiritual state of another person. Good fruit means you are looking at a good tree and bad fruit means you are looking at a bad tree. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we were created in Christ Jesus for the purpose of performing good works. Again, we can look at the life of someone claiming to be a Christian and look at what the Bible considers good works and see if their life is producing good works. The basic principle is simple and vital, but because so much is based on internal motivation, it is ultimately impossible to know for certain the spiritual state of another.

This being said, I fear that sometimes we put an overemphasis on personal evaluation when it comes to gaining assurance of our own salvation. We look at the works of others and make judgment calls on their salvation and do the same thing to ourselves. This principle is definitely one aspect of assurance. We cannot expect to be living in the joy of assurance while we are living lifestyles which would be contrary to the Word of God. While looking at our own works and evaluating them in the light of Scripture is certainly important, it cannot be all we do to appraise our own state before God. Many times we become so introspective that we forget about the cross and the work Christ accomplished there on our behalf. In Assured by God, Richard Phillips had this to say concerning this issue:

“Let us find assurance not by long meditation on our own souls, not by pondering questions of assurance itself, but through an ever-absorbing interest in the saving blood of Jesus Christ.”

R.L. Dabney also spoke to this tendency of over self-examination in believers seeking assurance:

“The habit of introspection may be abused, to divert the eyes of the soul too much from Christ”

No doubt, we should test ourselves to see whether we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). But often when we do this we begin to act as if we had something to do with our justification. The simple child-like trust in our sovereign God goes out the window. We are no longer focused on what He has done for us, but whether or not we have exercised enough faith. Thus, like everything else in our lives, even the assurance of salvation can become a self-centered pursuit rather than a God-centered pursuit. Erickson says this of faith:

“As repentance is the negative aspect of conversion, turning from one’s sin, so faith is the positive aspect, laying hold of the promises and the work of Christ.”

Our focus should always be on the cross-work of Jesus Christ. The faith we first exercise at the moment of salvation is the same faith that sustains us throughout our Christian lives. This is a faith that believes the facts about Christ and relies on those facts for salvation. It lays hold of the promises and the work of Christ. Inherent within this faith is what we call assurance of salvation. If you are dealing with someone who doubts their salvation, by all means examine the fruit showing in their life. But don’t stop there, go on to remind them of the promises and work of Christ they originally believed in and relied on for salvation. This is where true assurance is found, in God and not in us.

Reviews of Hitchens...and the Reviews of Hitchens

From Melinda @

John Mark Reynolds responses to Hitchens book are well worth the time. We recently enjoyed an evening together with others discussing the book, and it was throughly challenging and fun. Reynolds should debate Hitchens soon. I'd pay money for that debate. Here's his one-phrase review: "an assertion linked to a sneer."

And Robert Miller's review of the review of Hitchens book is to the point and hilarious in its honesty. It reflects the tedium and impatience many experts in the field feel when amateurs like Hitchens make bold proclamations about which they haven't bothered to understand. It doesn't take a pro to make a good argument, but anyone publishing a book would, you think, at least cover himself by acquainting himself with the scholarship that has long existed and attempt to avoid the fundamental mistakes already debunked. (HT: Between Two Worlds)

Here are a couple more from L.A. Times and Christianity Today.

Piper's Gospel Coalition Message

By: Abraham @

The audio and manuscript of Piper's message from yesterday are now available—"The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth."

You can also listen to an excerpt.

The website of The Gospel Coalition will be up in mid-June and will include all the audio and video from this week's conference.

"Is Christianity Good for the World?"Part 5 of the ongoing debate between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson.

Theologian Douglas Wilson and atheist Christopher Hitchens, authors whose books are already part of a larger debate on whether religion is pernicious, agreed to discuss their views on whether Christianity itself has benefited the world. Below is their exchange, one in a series that will appear on our website over the course of this month.

Douglas Wilson is author of Letter from a Christian Citizen, senior fellow of theology at New Saint Andrews College, and minister at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. He is also the editor of Credenda/Agenda magazine and has written (among other things ) Reforming Marriage and A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking. His Blog and Mablog site inevitably makes for provocative reading.

Christopher Hitchens wrote, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything(Twelve Books). Hitchens is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and a visiting professor of liberal studies at the New School. He is the author of numerous books, Thomas Jefferson: Author of America, Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man," Letters To a Young Contrarian, and Why Orwell Matters. He was named, to his own amusement, number five on a list of the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Britain's Prospect.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

From: Christopher Hitchens
To: Douglas Wilson
Part 5

If you insist, I shall concede that the significance of the Samaritan lies in his ethnicity. It's not a very impressive parable to begin with, though when I was taught it first in Sunday school, it was held up as an example of universal charity (with the added implication, not strange to us for some reason, that pious people are no more likely to behave with love and compassion than are others). Incidentally, what do we know about the ethnicity of the man who fell among thieves, or of the tribal character of those thieves if it comes to that? Surely you should be able to pronounce with authority on those details, too?

I agree that the origins of the cosmos are obscure—mysterious, if you like—to both of us. It's still you who makes the mystery, though, by insisting that very recent developments on this tiny speck of a planet on the edge of a galaxy are what impart significance to the entire "Big Bang" or divine first cause. To ask what caused either is to invite, as you are aware, an infinite regression of questions about what caused either of those causes. In my book I cite the great [Pierre-Simon, Marquis de] LaPlace, who opened the modern era by saying that accounts of the cosmos and its workings were now complete, or incomplete, on their own terms. They did not require a "god." Belief in a deity has been optional ever since. Believe it if you choose, but be aware that it raises more questions than it answers (actually it doesn't answer any important questions) and is thus highly vulnerable to Ockham's trusty edge. Deists used to agree with you about a Creator but were not religious in that the assumption of such an entity did not license the further assumption that he or she desired to intervene in human affairs, let alone the assumption that the torture and death of a single individual in a backward part of the Middle East was the solution that we had been awaiting for tens of thousands of years of brutish Homo sapiens existence.

Apply something of the same reasoning to the origins of morality. I say that our "innate" predisposition to both good and wicked behavior is precisely what one would expect to find of a recently-evolved species that is (as we now know from the study of DNA) half a chromosome away from chimpanzees. By the way, do not take that as a denigration of humankind. Primate and elephant and even pig societies show considerable evidence of care for others, parent-child bonding, solidarity in the face of danger, and so on. As Darwin put it:

Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections being here included, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed, or nearly as well-developed, as in man.

We can now observe this to be the case. But animal and human "altruism" is contradicted by the way in which species are also designed to fight with, kill, dominate, and even consume each other. Humans are capable of even greater cruelty because only they have the imagination to inflict it. I do not think that this indicts the Creator who made them this way, because I long ago dispensed with the assumption that there is any such entity. Thus, it is you and not I who are left with the questions about God's coexistence with evil. See where your talent for needless complexity has left you.

The fluctuations between social and anti-social conduct are fairly consistent across time and space: some societies have licensed cannibalism but they tend to die out, and others have licensed human sacrifice and infanticide (usually under the influence of some priesthood). But I answer your question by making the pragmatic observation that, if we surrendered to our lower instincts all the time, there would be no language in which to write this argument between us and no society in which we could find an audience. The struggle to assert what is positive in our human capacity—I don't mind Lincoln's metaphor of our "better angels" if you promise not to take it too literally—is arduous enough. If I take myself, I find that I can derive pleasure from giving blood for free and also from contemplating the deaths of my clerical-fascist enemies in the ranks of Al Qaeda and even from the misfortunes of others who do not threaten me. I am sure you could give parallel examples of your own. But telling us that we are created sick and then ordered to be well is no help in clarifying this problem. And telling us that the solution to it only became available some two thousand years ago, according to some highly discrepant and self-contradictory accounts, cannot strike me as anything but absurd. What on earth is proven—except your own vulnerability to making tautologous statements—by the claim that "Jesus Christ is good for the world because he came as the life of the world"? You cannot possibly "know" this. Nor can you present any evidence for it. And its corollary—that without Jesus we are abandoned to wickedness in all its forms—has the horrible implication that worthy actions are pointless unless accompanied by your own rather ill-grounded faith. As I say, believe it if it helps you. But do not insult the millions of people who have done the right thing without requiring any such supernatural authority. And do not tell me that I must be in love with death if I dissent from your view. That's too much. Your Christianity, in case you have not noticed, has actually made you a less compassionate and thoughtful person than, without its exorbitant presumptions, you would otherwise be.


* * *

From: Douglas Wilson
To: Christopher Hitchens
Part 5

I am afraid your argument is tangled up with greater difficulties than the ethnicity of the Samaritan, and so that issue really need not detain us any longer. I have been asking you to provide a warrant for morality, given atheism, and you have mostly responded with assertions that atheists can make what some people call moral choices. Well, sure. But what I have been after is what rational warrant they can give for calling one choice "moral" and another choice "not moral." You finally appealed to "innate human solidarity," a phrase that prompted a series of pointed questions from me. In response, you now tell us that we have an innate predisposition to both good and wicked behavior. But we are still stuck. What I want to know (still) is what warrant you have for calling some behaviors "good" and others "wicked." If both are innate, what distinguishes them? What could be wrong with just flipping a coin? With regard to your retort that my "talent for needless complexity" has simply gotten me "God's coexistence with evil," I reply that I would rather have my God and the problem of evil than your no God and "Evil? No problem!"

After this many installments, I now feel comfortable in asserting that I have posed this question to you from every point of the compass and have not yet received anything that approaches the semblance of an answer. On this question I am tempted to quote Wyatt Earp from the film Tombstone—"You gonna do something or just stand there and bleed?"—but I think I'll pass. Earp was not very much like the Good Samaritan.

But it is interesting that the same thing happens to you when you have to give some warrant for trusting in "reason.". I noted your citation of LaPlace in your book and am glad you brought him up here. LaPlace believed he was not in need of the God hypothesis, just like you, but you should also know he held this position as a firm believer in celestial and terrestrial mechanics. He was a causal determinist, meaning that he believed that every element of the universe in the present was "the effect of its past and the cause of its future."

So if LaPlace is why you think belief in God is now "optional," this appeal of yours actually turns into quite a fun business. This doctrine means (although LaPlace admittedly got distracted before these implications caught up with him) that you, Christopher Hitchens, are not thinking your thoughts and writing them down because they are true, but rather because the position and velocity of all the atoms in the universe one hundred years ago necessitated it. And I am not sitting here thinking my Christian thoughts because they are the truth of God, but rather because that is what these assembled chemicals in my head always do in this condition and at this temperature. "LaPlace's demon" could have calculated and predicted your arguments (and word count) a century ago in just the same way that he could have calculated the water levels of the puddles in my driveway — and could have done so using the same formulae. This means that your arguments and my puddles are actually the same kind of thing. They are on the same level, so to speak.

If you were to take a bottle of Mountain Dew and another of Dr. Pepper, shake them vigorously, and put them on a table, it would not occur to anyone to ask which one is "winning the debate." They aren't debating; they are just fizzing. You refer to "language in which to write this argument," and you do so as though you believed in a universe where argument was a meaningful concept. Argument? Argument? I have no need for your "argument hypothesis." Just matter in motion, man.

You dismiss the idea that the death of Jesus—the "torture and death of a single individual in a backward part of the Middle East" — could possibly be the solution to the sorrows of our brutish existence. When I said that Jesus is good for the world because he is the life of the world, you just tossed this away. You said, "You cannot possibly 'know' this. Nor can you present any evidence for it."

Actually, I believe I can present evidence for what I know. But evidence comes to us like food, and that is why we say grace over it. And we are supposed to eat it, not push it around on the plate—and if we don't give thanks, it never tastes right. But here is some evidence for you, in no particular order. The engineering that went into ankles. The taste of beer. That Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, just like he said. A woman's neck. Bees fooling around in the flower bed. The ability of acorns to manufacture enormous oaks out of stuff they find in the air and dirt. Forgiveness of sin. Storms out of the North, the kind with lightning. Joyous laughter (diaphragm spasms to the atheistic materialist). The ocean at night with a full moon. Delta blues. The peacock that lives in my yard. Sunrise, in color. Baptizing babies. The pleasure of sneezing. Eye contact. Having your feet removed from the miry clay, and established forever on the rock. You may say none of this tastes right to you. But suppose you were to bow your head and say grace over all of it. Try it that way.

You say that you cannot believe that Christ's death on the Cross was salvation for the world because the idea is absurd. I have shown in various ways that absurdity has not been a disqualifier for any number of your current beliefs. You praise reason to the heights, yet will not give reasons for your strident and inflexible moral judgments, or why you have arbitrarily dubbed certain chemical processes "rational argument." That's absurd right now, and yet there you are, holding it. So for you to refuse to accept Christ because it is absurd is like a man at one end of the pool refusing to move to the other end because he might get wet. Given your premises, you will have to come up with a different reason for rejecting Christ as you do.

But for you to make this move would reveal the two fundamental tenets of true atheism. One: There is no God. Two: I hate Him.

Back to Hitchen's response
Back to Wilson's response

The Form of the Bible: The Transfer of the Biblical Text from Scroll to Codex Form

By Julie Clawson @

The power of written language is undisputed. One can easily report examples of people being swayed by a book they have read or reacting strongly to a newspaper article. But does it matter in what form the words appear? For the last 1800 years or so, the words have appeared most regularly on pages organized into book format. Such a format has become so familiar, that one can hardly conceive of the written word appearing in any other format. Nevertheless, before the advent of the book, written words were most typically to be found on a scroll. Sometime, most likely during the second century AD, a transfer was made from scroll to book format. While that transfer did not happen suddenly, it was a major change that drastically affected how people approach the written word. Until the present day, there has not been a single change to the form the written word takes that has been as significant as that. Arguments can be made for the impact of the printed word as it replaced handwriting as being significant, which it is, but even with that, the general form of the book remained the same. In the current age a new form has been introduced -- that of the electronic medium. One no longer holds a physical object as one reads, but stares at a screen. In this medium lies the possible future of the written word. One wonders how significantly will this new transfer affect approaches to the word? But on that question, one can only speculate and make comparisons to the last significant transfer of the written word. By understanding the implications that the transfer from scrolls to books had on interpretation of and approaches to texts, perhaps an understanding of what is happening with electronic media currently can be reached.
To make a comparison, a study of the history of a particular book that has existed during the entire period in question is necessary. The Bible was originally written on a scroll format, then transferred to codex (book) form, and now has appeared in electronic medium. Given its importance as a religious document, the history of responses and approaches to it are readily available. Believers in the Bible, have not always interpreted the Bible in the same fashion, nor has their attitude to its physical form always been the same either. As a historically significant book that demands response from its readers, the Bible is the perfect hyper-example of the book in relation to the world. An exploration into the history of the Bible revels that interpretive approaches to the Bible both prompted and were the result of the transfer to book format. This paper will discuss that history and explore the impact the transfer of form had on the practice of interpretation of texts. In addition, some time will be given to discussing the possible implications the emergence of electronic media might have on the Bible and its interpretation.

The Bible as a Codex
By the age of the Emperor Justinian, the years 527 - 565, Christianity is legal and official. Such a status for the religion came after years of turmoil and persecution. But instead of being ostracized and persecuted, Christians now held positions of prominence. In fact by this period, “to be a bishop could now be a politically powerful and lucrative position.” # Similarly, by this period the Bible held a place of prominence as well. While the scriptures had always held a place of importance for Christians, the idea of the Bible as a book was significant in this period. For, “it is in this Justinianic world, which still encompassed both Greek east and Latin west, that western Bible manuscripts can first be observed as a coherent tradition.” # Its place in the church was determined and used regularly. Significantly, those Bibles “are all by now books rather than rolls, and all written on parchment rather than papyrus.” # In fact the book form was so common that some of those Bibles were even luxury volumes. # The codex form had gain such acceptance and was so common that the basic scriptures were put into expensive bindings and decorated.
Earlier evidence of the use of codex form for the Bible comes from the time of Constantine. It is recorded that “for churches in the new city of Constantinople, the Emperor himself, in AD 332, ordered fifty vellum Bibles.” # Given the extensive amount of time it took to prepare vellum and to copy the entire Bible, this was an extensive order. The request was made to Eusebius and the letter of the request remains. The emperor wrote, “I have thought it expedient to instruct your Intelligence [Eusebius] that you should command to be written fifty volumes on prepared vellum, easy to read and conveniently portable.” # The volumes requested were codices, “a manuscript which in shape and appearance is like a modern book.” # It is clear from this request that such a form was accepted as useful by this period. But the need for such a request to be made demonstrates that complete Bible books were not common. If the emperor had to request Bibles to be made so as to furnish the churches with them, one can see that that form had not become as widespread and common as it had by the time of Justinian. But it is in this period “that the codex form finally won the victory over the earlier roll; and vellum its victory over the earlier papyrus.” # The book had become accepted and through such requests as made by the emperor, was becoming more common. From this period onward scripture was written in the codex form.

Scripture Writing before the Codex
From the time scripture was first written down, the process and form of the writing was taken seriously. From the early times, “careful and exact copies of the holy writings had been made by Jewish scholars called ‘scribes.’” # This was a position that respected the form in which the scriptures were written. While it was a serious task from the beginnings of scripture writing, after the exile scribes were even more important and had the “responsibility of preserving, copying, and interpreting the law.” # The renewed interest in the long forgotten scriptures placed their physical existence in a more significant position. Regulations were even prescribed that demonstrate that level of respect for the physical appearance of the scripture. Such regulations included rules such as what type of ink the scribes could use, that each column written could have no less than forty-eight, and no more than sixty lines, that each word must be verbalized as it was written, that the pen and the scribe’s bodies must be washed every time prior to their writing the name of God, “Jehovah,” and that if more than three pages in a document required correction, the whole thing had to be redone. # The form that these well respected scriptures took was the scroll form because that was the common form for writing at that time.
Because the scroll form was the common method for writing on for the Jews, the books mentioned in the Bible are typically on rolls of papyrus. Writing on papyrus was a tradition that began in Egypt in around 3000 BC. Strips of papyrus pith were pressed together to form material suitable for writing on. For ease in writing, the scrolls usually just had writing on the side where the papyrus lay horizontally, but to fit more information onto a scroll, the vertical side was sometimes used as well. # The importance of having so much material on one scroll stands out, and the famous example of a scroll mentioned in the Bible, the one John sees in Revelation 5, was said to have writing on both sides, thus pointing out the significant amount of material it held.

The Scroll
The scroll was the common method for containing written material before the invention of the codex, but it had problems that had to be addressed. It is true that clay tablets were also used for writing purposes, but the weight and cumbersome nature of such made them impractical for the recording of lengthy material. Most common for writing large amounts of material on was papyrus. If the material was short, only a single page of papyrus was needed. Longer material was put onto multiple pages and connected. For convenient storage, that long papyrus was rolled into what is called a scroll. Papyrus was the most common material for scrolls, but parchment (animal skin) and metals were also used. For example, the scroll of Isaiah found with the Dead Sea Scrolls “measures exactly 7.34 meters . . . it is made up of 17 pieces of leather sewn end to end.” #
The problem of continuity was one that the scroll format had to overcome. Most things that had to be written were too long to fit onto just one piece of papyrus, which was limited in length by the height of the papyrus plant. Sewn parchment was cumbersome and metal was heavy and expensive (and hard to unroll). Having continuous scrolls was so important to readers “that the Athenians supposedly raised a statue to a certain Phillatius, who had invented a glue for fastening together leaves of parchment or papyrus.” # Having longer scrolls allowed for material to be connected and put together in one long piece.
But even with continuous scrolls, there still existed a limited surface with which to work. A scroll was held with both hands, and one hand unrolled what was to be read while the other rolled up what had been read. Given the limits of the span of human arms, only a small portion of the scroll could be accessed at any one moment, and a good deal of effort had to go into finding any particular point in a longer scroll. The limited surface of an unwieldy scroll is “a disadvantage we are keenly aware of today, having returned to this ancient book-form on our computer screens, which revel only a portion of text at a time as we “scroll” upwards or downwards.” # While computers provide means of quick shortcuts and so are not as bothersome as physical scrolls, the comparison gives the general idea of the difficulty scrolls gave people.
Given the fact that scrolls had to be held, they could not be too large. Yet, the longer the scroll was, the more material it could contain. Therefore a tension existed between making a scroll user friendly and allowing it to contain a good amount of material. In regard to the height of the scroll, specimens exist of papyrus rolls “which are as high as 15 inches, but about 10 inches is more usual for works of literature.”# Such a height is taller than the typical modern book one is accustomed to holding in one’s hands. The length varied according to what was more important - readability or necessity of containing much material. There are “several Egyptian liturgical rolls exist of 50 feet and over, and one is known of 133 feet; but such rolls were too cumbersome for ordinary reading, and Greek literary rolls seldom, if ever, exceeded 35 feet - a length which is sufficient for a single book of Thucydides or one on the longer Gospels, but not for more.” # The longer scrolls, though good for the amount of material they held, were just too impractical to be used ordinarily. The typical lengths of scrolls influenced how the scriptures were originally written. For instance, “the longest books of the New Testament (which, in descending order of length , are Luke, Acts, Matthew, John) represent the amount of written matter which a roll of normal size contained.” # One assumes much more occurred in the life of Christ than is recorded in the Gospels, but perhaps the authors had to limit themselves by the amount of space they had to compose on. Whatever the reason, the scriptures as a whole could not fit onto a single scroll.

The Codex
The codex was an invention of necessity. It is generally assumed that “the codex was a pagan invention.” # Legend has it that the first codex was made by Julius Caesar. According to the writings of Sueonius, “Julius Caesar was the first to fold a roll into pages, for dispatches to his troops.” # A flat folded piece of papyrus takes up less space and is more private than a roll. Such small uses, while perhaps not really first done by Julius Caesar, most likely came out of practical needs such as needing a way to store and transport small pieces of papyrus.
The earliest of the codices have been found to be made out of the common material papyrus. People were used to writing on papyrus, so it is natural that when the codex form was first used, the common writing material would be used in it. Since papyrus does not survive easily, it was originally though that there were no papyrus codices. But that idea was refuted by the discovery of the Chester Beatty Papyri. # Then at the site of Oxyrhyncus in 1896, Grenfell and Hunt found a folded sheet from a codex of St. John. There was “particular interest attached to this find, because it was formerly thought that the codex form was not employed before vellum came into use: but this sheet is from a papyrus codex, its date is the third century.”# To further strengthen the existence of the papyrus codex, in 1936, Sir Frederic Kenyon published the find of a Christian library stowed in jars found in a Coptic graveyard. In this library were papyrus codices which are dated as early as AD 200. # So while papyrus codices are now known to exist, it is also known that papyrus was not the most common material for the codex.
General impracticality of other materials led to the widespread use of animal skin for codices. Manguel discusses that since clay and papyrus were the common materials for writing, tablets and scrolls were common. But he points out that “neither was suitable for the form of the book that superseded tablet and scroll: the codex, or sheaf of bound pages.” # He explains that “a codex of clay tablets would have been heavy and cumbersome, and although there were codices made of papyrus pages, papyrus was too brittle to be folded into booklets.” # The codices made from papyrus did not usually last long and so were mostly impractical.
It was found that it was parchment or vellum (animal skins) that could be folded into all sizes and hence made into codices. The first uses of animal skin as a writing surface is unknown. Legends of its invention is found in the writings of Pliny the Elder. According to Pliny, “King Ptolemy of Egypt, wishing to keep the production of papyrus a national secret in order to favor his own Library of Alexandria, forbade its export, thereby forcing his rival, Eumemes, ruler of Pergamum, to find a new material for books in his library.” This early trade embargo therefore led to the invention of parchment in Pergamum in the second century BC. # Yet archeology proves legend wrong with the discover of parchment that dates from a century earlier than the time frame of the legend. # Whatever its origins, “by the fourth century, and until the appearance of paper in Italy eight centuries later, parchment was the preferred material throughout Europe for the making of books.” # The existence of parchment made the production of codices easier and contributed to their longevity.
Once the codex form was introduced, it grew in popularity. While the first folding of a sheet of parchment produced a codex of only four, eight, or sixteen pages, the idea soon evolved. The possibilities of the new form were soon realized and the codex grew in size and pages, making it vaster than any previous book. # In the codex, there now was a form that could hold page after page of material. While the length seemed theoretically limitless, “up to the third century no surviving codex is known to have had more than 300 pages . . . [but] after that the codex grew.” #
The growth of the codex involved both the extension of the amount of material it contained and its popularity. Both increased, as shown by the periods mentioned above such as when Constantine requests for whole Bibles written in this new form. The practical advantages of the codex made it more appealing that the older scroll and “by AD 400, the classical scroll had been all but abandoned.” # The codex had won.

Christians and the Codex
The triumph of the codex over the scroll can be linked to its connection with the Christian community. As alluded to above, “a book with pages in the form familiar to [modern humans] was not used in New Testament times, though this kind of book made its appearance not long after the end of the apostolic age and quickly became popular in Christian circles.” # Christians were using the codex form for their scriptures “certainly from the second century and probably as early as the first.” # This fact is peculiar because the use of the codex was not necessarily widespread. The codex was “the prevailing form for the Christian scriptures from a very early date, while for pagan literature, as indeed for other forms of Christian writing, the roll was only slowly ousted.” # Such a disparity calls for an exploration of why the codex was so popular among Christians for the recording of their scriptures.
The evidence is clear that the Christians used the codex form more than the pagans did. Archeological finding demonstrate that “for pagan literature, the papyrus codex accounts for only two to three percent of second-century fragments, rising to nearly seventeen percent in the third, forty-eight percent on the border-line of the third and fourth, and seventy-four percent in the fourth century.” # While it is apparent that the codex form won out for pagan literature, the process happened rather slowly. But “in the case of Biblical fragments ten belong to the second century or beginning of the third, and all were written on codices, while of the total of 111 Biblical texts surviving from the second to the fourth centuries only 12 are from rolls of which three and possibly six are Jewish, and five are episthographs -- i.e. the Biblical text is written on the backs of rolls already used for another purpose.” # While the evidence does not conclusively show that the Christians only used codices for the writing of the scriptures, it is evident that it was a preferred method.
Reason for the Christians’ affinity to the codex form are varied. Even during the apostolic age, written material (letters) was used as the means of instruction. Letters were sent which contained instruction and teaching. As Christianity grew, Christian churches in areas other than where those letter had originally been sent desired copies of those writings. As Christianity was more widespread in the Roman Empire there was a great ‘demand for the materials of Christian instruction.” # Copies of what was becoming accepted as scripture were sent to different areas, but “in the early days a Church which possessed the Scriptures would own them in parts.” #
Bible reading was a normal part of Christian life, and “Churches owned Bibles, or parts of them -- and if one owned a complete Bible it would be in several parts.” # The invention and growth of the codex form allowed for whole Bibles to be made. The ease of possessing entire copies of the scriptures increased greatly when those scriptures were contained in one manuscript.
The practical aspects of the appearance of the codex attracted Christians to it as well. Manguel comments on that aspect, and writes that “the early Christians adopted the codex because they found it highly practical for carrying around, hidden away in their clothes, texts that were forbidden by the Roman authorities.” # One must remember that the Christian books were banned and burned in many areas, and a form that made them easier to conceal would have been attractive to those who wanted to keep their copies and preserve their lives. The codex form was also practical in regard to referencing. # The scroll had always proved problematic when it came to finding specific passages or information. With the codex, one did not have to roll through the entire work before one came to the desired place. Instead, one could just open straight to the place one was interested in. In addition, “the pages could be numbered, which allowed the reader easier access to the sections.” # One could know exactly where to look in a codex for the information one needed. This was beneficial to Christians who had constant need to refer to particular parts of scripture. Also, “the four margins of a codex page made it easier to include glosses and commentaries, allowing the reader a hand in the story - a participation that was far more difficult when reading from a scroll.” # The limited surface of the scroll and its continuous writing made breaking points and addition of commentary impractical. With the codex, sections could be divided and commentary added alongside the text. Christians created a theology based on their scriptures and hence had need for commentary. Even if that commentary was not written on the same page as the text, it was much easier to have two codices (one text and one commentary) open in front of a person than to try and manage the unrolling and rolling back up of multiple scrolls at one time. Such physical aspects of the codex proved very beneficial to the Christians and were part of its appeal to them.
Probably the most important reason why Christians adopted the codex form so readily was that it allowed for the inclusion of multiple texts in one book. Because of the nature of the codex, “a much greater amount of matter could be included than was possible in a roll of normal length.”# For people who revered a large amount of writings as scripture, this aspect was appealing. Texts were no longer scattered or divided. Equally as important, “the organization of the texts themselves, which had previously been divided according to the capacity of a scroll was changed.” # Previously, texts had been divided according to the amount of material a scroll could contain. As mentioned above, only one of the Gospels could fit onto a normal size scroll. Books were either separate or paired according to length. For example, some of Paul’s letters might be combined on one scroll, but those would be separate from other letters or the Gospels. trends in how longer works were divided resulted from scroll capacity as well. In the case of Homer’s Iliad, for instance, “the division of the poem into twenty-four books probably resulted from the fact that it normally occupied twenty-four scrolls.” # But with the advent of the codex form, “the text could now be organized according to its contents, in books or chapters, or could become itself a component when several shorter works were conveniently collected under a single handy cover.” # The possibilities of organization where seemingly endless and attracted Christians who had an assorted number of texts to work with. Yet even though many works could be contained in a codex, the very aspect of their being combined in one bound form gave to them the semblance of a whole. The codex “allowed the reader to flip almost instantly to other pages and thereby retain a sense of the whole.” # This sense of a whole proved vital in the formation of the Christian canon.
The use of the codex is intricately tied to the formation of the canon. Elliott in discussing the canon comments that “it is likely that the codex form in which the Christian scriptures circulated helped to promote the establishment of the definite, fixed canon of the 27 books we know.” # While there were many factors contributing to the development of the Christian canon, the existence of the codex help the process. Although it was not “until the fourth century that relative agreement was reached about precisely which books should be in the [New Testament] canon,” the process began as soon as the first Christian documents were written. # The question of which books were the proper ones to follow was an important issue for the early church. Many books claimed, some falsely, to give true Gospel accounts or to teach true theology. For the lay Christian who was eager to encounter any Christian writing, there existed a great danger of being exposed to incorrect books. With the invention of the codex, collections of writings were made possible. As a result of these collections, “when certain, approved, texts were gathered into small collections this had the effect of ostracizing and isolating texts which were not deemed suitable for inclusion.” # The codex prevented the easy spread of random writings that were not approved by the church leaders. If they created a collection and left certain writings out, those writings had a very small chance of being seen as important by other Christians. That is not to say that no such separate writings were seen as important, but just that it was less likely to happen. In addition, “the users of these codices would have accepted all the texts in the Bible codex as having equal status.” # When the writings of Peter were placed next to the writings of Paul, both were seen as valid. When those writings had existed as separate scrolls, division grew and there were opposing sides of those who followed Peter and those who followed Paul. The inclusion of both in one codex gave then equal status.
The codex form had even more sway in the formation of the canon of the Gospels. As mentioned earlier, Gospels books, stories of the life of Christ were longer books and only one could fit onto a scroll. In the time of the early church many such separate Gospel stories were in existence, some informed and some bogus. The determining that the four Gospels that are in today’s Bible to be the correct four was a church decision, but the common acceptance of that decision was assisted by the existence of the codex. The fourfold Gospels “could fit into one codex, but not onto one roll, so the adoption of the codex would itself have had the effect of enforcing the fourfold Gospel canon as a fixed entity.” # When people are exposed often enough to a certain format, the four Gospels together, they come to accept it as the way it should be done. But not only did such a collection make those four Gospels common, it had the effect of making others uncommon. The collecting of the “four Gospels into one codex had the effect of according a special status to those four but, possibly more significant, helped to limit the number of Gospels to those four and no more.” # That desire to limit the number of writings that were circulating is perhaps one of the reasons the early Christians were so attracted to the codex form. With a set of collected writings there could be a semblance of inalterability. A collection in codex form then served the purpose of safeguarding the scriptures from either addition or deletion. Such an inalterable set of writings “is in effect the operation of a ‘canon.’” # It is true that the codices were not designed to demonstrate an established canon of scripture, but “canon and codex go hand in hand in the sense that the adoption of a fixed canon could be more easily controlled and promulgated when the codex was the normal means of gathering together originally separated compositions.” # The connection between the two is established and obvious. No matter how limited the understandings are of why they two were connected, the connection is undisputed.
Yet it was a connection peculiar to the Christians at that particular time. They saw some value in using the codex for their writings, and it served their purposes well. In previous times, no such connection was necessary for the establishment of a canon. The Jews had a canon, but did not have the codex form. It seems that the situation that the Christians found themselves in provided them with certain conditions that made the use of the codex helpful, but also in the long run necessary for the establishment of the canon of scriptures. Even if the connection mentioned above is in reality a mere coincidence, the use of the codex saved the Bible in another sense. The original New Testament books were written on papyrus sheets or rolls, depending on their length, but papyrus usually does not last long, and so it is a blessing that the scriptures were copied soon enough to be saved. # The codex form is more durable and preserved the copies of things like flimsy letters long enough for certain writing to become established. The early use of the codex form also benefits modern historians in allowing them to find very early manuscripts of the scriptures which would be less possible if the scriptures had remained on papyrus. So the codex appealed to Christians for very practical reasons, but it also served some very practical purposes for them in the preservation and establishment of their canon of scriptures.

Interpretation of the Bible
From the evidence discussed above, the Christians had many reasons for adopting the codex form for their scriptures. The statistics about the number of manuscripts that have been discovered among Christians and pagans demonstrates that the early popular use of the codex was generally restricted to Christians. While little research has been done to explore why the pagans did not quickly grab onto this new form, it is generally assumed that they just did not have the same need to do so as the Christians did. The pagans had a set library which had existed on scrolls for a significant period of time. They had no need for a smaller book that could be concealed from the authorities or serious reason to establish a canon of some sort. The codex over time proved to be more convenient for them and so won out, but there was never any intense need to make use of it from its early days.
The codex form did not just serve the Christian’s purposes, it influenced them as well. The emergence of a new form of book does not exist devoid of any meaning. In discussing the influence of the codex, Boomershine writes that “the primary communications system of the community provides the contest within which Biblical interpretation happens. It determines the values, attitudes, and overall hermeneutical options for the interpretation of the Biblical translation in that cultural context.” # For the first time ever the entire scripture cold fit into one bound volume. The very existence of such a volume influenced how those scriptures were regarded. When things are put together into a new book, a sense of the whole is created. Each item in that book is given equal status and is seen as unified. Being under one cover brought a seemingly random collection of writings together, and since they were collected together it was assumed that they had some connection to each other. In general, “the expectation [is] that the major changes in communications systems are followed by paradigm shifts in Biblical interpretations.” # This new found unity provided the basis for the establishment of a new theology that saw the Bible as a continuous narrative centered around the incarnation of Jesus Christ. All parts of the Bible were seen to point to that central event. That narrative theology became prominent in Christian groups as did the idea that the scriptures were a singular book. Such views could never have become so widely accepted expect for the existence of the codex which allowed for the singular book to exist.

Comments on Electronic Format
The study of the transfer of the book format from scroll to codex form lends itself to speculation on the significance of the recent emergence of a new format, that of the electronic medium. While the codex form is still the most widely used form for accessing written material, the electronic form is gaining popularity. Most people who have access to written material, encounter at least a portion of it in electronic form. Both codex and the electronic medium are currently in common usage. The significant question at hand is if the electronic medium will triumph over the codex as writing did over oral tradition and codex did over the scroll, and what will be the long term effect of that transfer? Of course, the answers to those questions lie in the future and so can merely be speculated about, but after an examination of the establishment of the codex and its influences, those questions are forefront on one’s mind. The question is especially of interest to Christians who have formed a theology based on the codex form of the Bible. While the codex came as a needed form during the early days of the scriptures, the emergence of the electronic medium provides no obviously needed role. In fact there are many Christians who look upon the form as something that will destroy the scriptures they hold dear.
Some of the concerns about the new form are the aspects of it that differ significantly from the codex form. As mentioned earlier, the electronic medium is similar to the ancient scroll in the amount of space on can see on the screen at any given moment, for one must scroll up and down to see the text. # Hypertext links solve the problem of having to scroll through an entire work to get to a certain part, but the idea is the same. In addition there no longer exists the simple unity that the Christians based much of their theology on. The Bible is too big to fit onto one file or one web site. So as with early scrolls, it must be divided according to length. Usually this means having a link to each separate book. Tradition still refers to it as the Bible, but one wonders what affect this redivision of the book will have of the theology of it as being a whole. Then while the codex allowed for more interaction than with the scroll, the electronic medium allows for more interaction than with the codex. The code word for the new learning approaches is the word “interactive, ” # for “it used to be for instance, that the only way to compare different translations was to open books and spread them out over a large surface, or to search a parallel Bible, again in book form.” # But with the new electronic medium “comparisons are aided by the increasingly familiar ‘windows’ environment of computers,” one can have the original text in one window, translation in another, and a commentary in another. # The possibility of the influence of outside commentary increases greatly with this new form.
It is true that “the conservative response in each age is to resist the new culture generated by the new medium but to incorporate the medium into the old culture and its hermeneutics.” # Bible are widespread in the electronic medium, but that form is also being fought as contrary to everything that is dear about the Bible. The result of the debate could lead to some serious rethinking about the very nature of the Bible and scripture. Already scholars have reexamined what the nature of the scriptures is. Harley comments that “a major element in the paradigm shift is the recognition that the Bible is sounds that were recorded in manuscripts so that they could again be resounded rather than texts to be studied in silence.” # He suggests taking the emphasis off the existence of the Bible as a book because that was just a form it took out of connivance, and instead to focus on the words and ideas. But the issue is far from solved, and what the entire implications of this new form will be are not even known. What is important is to see the events as they are occurring in perspective and to realize that something similar has occurred before.

Concluding Thoughts
In retrospect, the history of the Bible provides interesting insights. The influence and the popularity of the codex form of the Bible are evident. Most people when they think of the Bible think of a singular bound volume. It is a beneficial exercise to explore who that form came to be. For in the modern age when the emergence of the new electronic medium has people up in arms to protect the form of the Bible, knowing the history of that form can put much of the current debate into perspective. The reasons for the early Christian use of the codex appear as practical ones, not absolute or God ordained. There is nothing inherently special about the codex form. Its history shows that it suited the needs of the Christians at a particular point in history and has continued to do so for over 1800 years. Having that knowledge of the codex diminishes its importance as a form in and of itself. It would be foolish to reject the new electronic medium merely because one has a false belief that there is inherent value in the codex form. The scriptures are the word of God in whatever form they take and must be accepted as such.


Boomershine, Thomas E. “Biblical Megatrends: Towards a Paradigm for the Interpretation of the Bible in Electronic Media.” The Bible in the Twenty-First Century. ed. Howard Clark Kee. New York: American Bible Society, 1993.
Bruce, F.F. The Book and the Parchments, London: Pickering & Inglis Inc., 1950.
Connolly, Ken. The Indestructible Book: The Bible, Its Translators, and Their Sacrifices. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996.
Elliott, J.K. “Manuscripts, The Codex and The Canon” Journal for the Study of the New Testament. Issue 63, Sept 1996.
Gibson, Margaret T. The Bible in the Latin West. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993.
Harley, Richard. “New Media for Communicating the Bible: The Potential and the Problems.” The Bible in the Twenty-First Century. ed. Howard Clark Kee. New York: American Bible Society, 1993.
Herklots, H.G.G. How Our Bible Came to Us. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954.
Kenyon, Sir Frederic. Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1958.
Manguel, Alberto. A History of Reading. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.