The Book of Acts: Do the apostles always do right?

Does the book of Acts intend to tell us a historical narrative, or does Luke tell us how we should be living? In other terms, is it just descriptive, or is it also prescriptive? One approach is that we should follow what Acts says – or follow it more confidently – only when its narrative is reinforced by specific propositional teaching, that is, declarative statements from the gospels or epistles. If we cannot, then it might be appropriate to question whether the apostles were making good decisions. On the other hand, Craig Keener leans toward the “prescriptive” viewpoint, stating that Hellenistic and Jewish histories of the period were not simply records of what happened, but models for the reader to follow: “it should not surprise us that Luke is explicit in presenting his primary protagonists as models for virtue” and also to show how God providentially worked in history. [1] I broadly agree with him that the book of Acts is a gift of the Spirit to tell us the truth about us, the church universal, not just the facts of the past. I would say that: Rule #1 is, by default, Acts calls us to listen to what we should be doing, and Rule #2 is, follow Rule #1 up to the point where the narrator clearly shows disapproval. Its default is prescriptive, unless you can prove different, the actions of its participants have the Spirit’s seal of approval. One easy example is when Acts describes, various times, the conversion of Cornelius in Acts 11:11-12. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. And Peter’s critics had to conclude in 11:18, “When they… Read More

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The Passion Translation (TPT) of the Bible – Beware!

I was only recently alerted to this new edition, which seems to have become all the rage in some ministries, especially Pentecostal ones. As is often the case with one-person translations, its author promotes it as the very epitome of Bible translation! I will depend here on the extensive and careful analysis of the Psalms section, as reviewed by world-class Old Testament scholar Andrew G. Shead. Like him, I am concerned that some preachers are using this version almost as a cultic totem. Enjoy! Shead on the Psalms TPT: TPT is not just a new translation; it is a new text, and its authority derives solely from its creator. Like Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon, Brian Simmons has created a new scripture with the potential to rule as canon over a new sect. Judging from The Psalms alone, I would say that it would be a Christian sect, and that unlike the Mormon cult its scriptures will point its adherents to saving faith in God the Son, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. But TPT is not a Bible, and any church that treats it as such and receives it as canon will, by that very action, turn itself into an unorthodox sect. If the translation had been packaged as a commentary on Scripture I would not have needed to write this review; but to package it as Scripture is an offence against God. Every believer who is taught to treat it as the enscripturated words of God is in spiritual danger, not least because of the sentimentalised portrait of God that TPT Psalms sets out to paint. Simmons’s caricature of God as ‘the King who likes and enjoys you’ (‘Introduction’, p. 5) eliminates all but one facet of God’s feelings about us, and then gets that one wrong. Here is an… Read More

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Book Notice: 2 KINGS (REFORMED EXPOSITORY COMMENTARY), by Philip Graham Ryken

A Brief Book Notice From Books at a Glance Despite the tragic events of 2 Kings, hope remains as God holds to his promise never to forsake David’s line. This historical book has everyday relevance as it shows both the consequences of idolatry and God’s concern for people in serious hardship. Most important, it prepares us to see our need for the true and greatest Prophet and King. Tracing the overarching narrative, Philip Graham Ryken connects it to Christ and explores its applications for ordinary Christians in today’s world. As are all Reformed Expository Commentaries, this book is accessible to both pastors and lay readers. Each volume in the series gives careful attention to the biblical text, is doctrinally Reformed, focuses on Christ through the lens of redemptive history, and applies the Bible to our contemporary setting. About the Author Philip Ryken is the eighth president of Wheaton College. Following his graduation from Wheaton College in 1988, he earned a master of divinity degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and a doctorate in historical theology from the University of Oxford. Dr. Ryken preached at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church from 1995 until his appointment at Wheaton in 2010. He has published more than 50 books, including Reformed Expository Commentaries on 1 Kings, Luke, Galatians, and 1 Timothy. He teaches the Bible weekly on the broadcast Every Last Word and serves as a board member for the Lausanne Movement, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, and The Gospel Coalition. Endorsements Tim Challies, Blogger, Pastor, Grace Fellowship Church, Toronto: Phil Ryken has consistently proved to be among our most trusted and most helpful contemporary biblical commentators. Each one of his commentaries is marked by faithful interpretation and explanation of the biblical text along with insightful application to today’s believers. His new… Read More

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Your Main Problem Is Not Other People

Galatians 6:3 is often read as a stand-alone statement, but I think it should be read as one idea. Paul says, “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” That’s true on its own, of course; it’s true as a stand-alone proverb. If you think you’re better than you really are, you’re self-deceived. But Paul is connecting it here and saying you’re never going to live this kind of servant life—you’re never going to move out into relationships really trying to serve others rather than trying to use others to build up your self-image—unless there’s a deep humility in you. I love how categorical the Bible is about this point. In effect, Paul says, “Now, as a Christian, remember what the gospel says: You’re nothing.” It’s like the drive-by teaching Jesus does in Luke 11:9–13. He’s talking to his disciples about prayer, essentially telling them, “My Father will give you things if you ask for them.” But then he says, “After all, if you who are evil give good gifts to your children when they ask you, how much more would your heavenly Father . . . ?” Wait. You who are evil? He’s talking to the apostles! “Oh, by the way . . . you’re evil. Yes, you, the apostles, you’re evil.” And that’s half the gospel: You’re evil; you’re nothing. But you don’t overcome that by seeking relationships that make you feel good about yourself. It isn’t by moving out into every relationship figuring out how that person, that relationship, can build up your flagging, fragile sense of self-worth. That’s desperate; that’s sad. And it isn’t going to work, because your fundamental problem isn’t with other people. Your sense of self-worth is flagging and fragile because you’re not related to God like… Read More

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Reflections on 2 Corinthians 3

Surpassing, Transforming Glory So what is Paul saying in his use of the Exodus incident in relation to the new covenant?In our session with Dr Gary Williams, referred to in Part 1, we looked at the comparison between the experience of Moses at Sinai and that of Peter, James and John on the mountain upon which they witnessed Jesus’ graphic transfiguration. Mark records that episode thus: “After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.” (Mark 9 vs 2 – 10) There are many similarities. Peter, in his second letter, refers to this also: ” For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the… Read More

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Book Notice: 2 SAMUEL (REFORMED EXPOSITORY COMMENTARY), by Richard D. Phillips

A Brief Book Notice from Books at a Glance Blessed through God’s anointing, King David binds together a broken nation and gives his people victory—until, distracted, he is overcome by sin. The sword of God’s judgment then falls on David and his house, but even as David is humbled, he returns penitently to the Lord. Richard Phillips’s expository commentary carries us with David up to the heights and down to the depths, noting the lessons for our faith today—forgiveness doesn’t cancel consequences; leadership doesn’t exclude accountability; even flawed characters can end well—and exalting Jesus Christ, David’s greater Son, as the true King our salvation requires. About the Author Richard D. Phillips (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church of Greenville, South Carolina. He is a council member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, and coeditor of the Reformed Expository Commentary series. Endorsements Joel R. Beeke, President, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids: Second Samuel contains enough political intrigue and scandal to fill a tabloid. Yet behind the machinations of kings stands the King who is preparing a kingdom for his Son. Rick Phillips unveils that kingdom with clear teaching and pointed application. Here is a sermonic commentary designed not only to educate, but to edify. It admirably succeeds in both. Harry L. Reeder III, Pastor-Teacher, Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Birmingham: In his kind providence, our Lord has provided a significant resource, once again, through a commentary from Rick Phillips. As in his other works, this commentary reads devotionally, yet challenges the mind to think deeply in the Word of God about the God of the Word. Amazingly, I can commend this to any believer for devotional reading, to the preacher for sermon development, and to the serious Bible… Read More

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Book Notice: PSALMS, VOLUME 2 (THE NIV APPLICATION COMMENTARY), by W. Dennis Tucker, Jr. and Jamie A. Grant

A Brief Book Notice from Books At a Glance Our generation is blessed to have more excellent resources on the Psalms than we can possibly read. Only the “Psalms specialist” could keep up with them all. As the title of this series implies, the “Application Commentaries” from Zondervan do not typically address all the academic and theological questions the scholar and theologian may like, but the handful of these commentaries that I have used, at least, are by no means trite and have shown themselves to be genuinely useful and valuable to the preacher. This new commentary on Psalms 73-150 confirms my impression. It is not detailed, but it is very well-informed, helpfully conveying the sense of each Psalm and enriching the application – NIVAC’s trademark “Bridging Contexts” focus.Gerald Wilson was the author of the first volume NIVAC commentary on Psalms (2002; Psalms 1-72) and was slotted to do the second volume but was prevented by death. Now at long last Tucker and Grant have supplied us with volume two – a most worthy complement to Wilson and to the NIVAC series. Fred G. Zaspel Buy the books Psalms, Volume 2 (The NIV Application Commentary) Zondervan, 2018 | 1072 pages Visit Books at a Glance

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Book Notice: GALATIANS: NO LONGER SLAVES BUT SONS, by Mark Johnston

A Brief Book Notice from Books at a Glance Galatians: a letter that had great importance for the magisterial Reformers (Luther on Galatians is always in print) and in recent years has been at the heart of the the debate on New Covenant theology and the New Perspective on Paul. Mark Johnston brings Paul’s letter back where it belongs with a pastor’s heart and unerring clarity he makes this vital Scripture accessible to the ordinary Christian. About the Author Mark Johnston trained for the ministry at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, before returning to Ireland as a Church Planter. From there he went on to pastor churches in London, Philadelphia and currently Cardiff. He also serves on the Board of the Banner of Truth Trust. Mark is married to Fiona and they have two grown up children. He has authored a number of books and has a monthly column in Place for Truth, an American Reformed website. Among other things he enjoys photography, fly fishing, Irish music and surfing in his spare time. Endorsements Ian Hamilton, Associate Minister, Smithton Church, Inverness Lecturer in Church History, Edinburgh Theological Seminary: The strengths of this brief commentary are many: It is clearly written, biblically insightful, theologically coherent and pastorally challenging. The exposition of 3:21-25, perhaps the most difficult paragraph in the Letter, is especially a model of careful exegesis, theological awareness and pastoral sensitivity. The church today needs urgently to be reminded of ‘solus Christus’. This commentary can help to refocus Christians in general and pastors in particular on this great biblical and Reformation truth. Buy it. Read it. Be spiritually enriched by it. Edward Donnelly, Former Minister, Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church, Newtownabbey Lecturer in New Testament, Reformed Presbyterian Theological College, Belfast: This fresh work on Galatians is a superb contribution towards spiritual growth in… Read More

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Romans Commentary, Romans 16 and Conclusion

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here Shogren_Commentary on Romans OUTLINE: IX. Conclusion (16:1-27)A. Greetings (16:1-16)B. A Call to Spiritual Discernment (16:17-20)C. Greetings and Doxology (16:21-26) IX. Conclusion (16:1-27) A. Greetings (16:1-16) 16:1-2 Phoebe carried this epistle, a scroll tucked into her luggage, on a sea trip of 2-3 weeks from Corinth to Rome (see Introduction). Perhaps she had other business to conduct in the capital, or perhaps she went specifically to deliver Paul’s letter. “Give her any help she may need” is the technical term meaning to furnish her with whatever help she needed to return to her home in Cenchrea, one of the two ports of Corinth. Phoebe was a leader of that church. Paul applies to Phoebe the term that he uses for male co-workers (Col 1:7; 1 Tim 4:6). If she had been a man, it is likely that all the English versions would denominate her a “deacon” (as in Phil 1:1) instead of a “deaconess” (NJB) or even more vaguely “servant” or “minister”. 16:3-16 It is a testimony to the high mobility of the Roman empire that Paul knew so many believers, some intimately, in a city he had never visited. He mentions about 26 men and women by name, which is unusual for him and for… Read More

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Romans Commentary, Romans 15:14-33

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here Shogren_Commentary on Romans OUTLINE: VIII. The Priestly Ministry of Paul and his Itinerary (15:14-33)A. His ministry is centered on evangelizing areas which have no church (15:14-22)B. He plans on visiting Jerusalem, then Rome, and then on to pioneer territory in Spain(15:23-33) VIII. The Priestly Ministry of Paul and his Itinerary (15:14-33) A. His ministry is centered on evangelizing areas which have no church (15:14-22) Paul concludes in vv. 14-15a by affirming that the Roman Christians are “full of goodness”. Even if he had to speak strongly about some issues he is not giving them anything new; the epistle was designed to refresh their memories, to “remind you of them again”. No-one could complain that he was introducing some new doctrine. It is fitting, given the language of worship earlier in this chapter, that he refers in vv. 15b-16 to his holy service as an apostle of Christ. The word he uses (leitourgos) could have a secular sense of “servant” (see Rom 13:6); nevertheless, in this context he is using it in the religious sense of one who enters the temple sanctuary to worship God (as in Heb 8:2). This has nothing to do with the doctrine that the clergy are “priests” who offer the sacrifice… Read More

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“Return to Me”

Zechariah 1:1-6 Dr Steve Orr I don’t know how well you know the Old Testament book of Zechariah or what comes to your mind if you hear it mentioned but I’ve had it in mind for some time to attempt a series on Zechariah and now that series is beginning. When I started preparing, I turned to James Montgomery Boice’s little commentary on Zechariah and was dismayed to read his opening sentence: “Zechariah is one of the most difficult books in the Old Testament”. However, as I read a bit more widely I came across plenty of encouraging comments such as: “Zechariah is the most Messianic of all the writings of the Old Testament”. Or: “The key to unlocking the truth contained in Zechariah is the Messiah, Jesus”. Someone else said: “At least 33 portions of Zechariah are quoted in about 50 different places in the New Testament. Many of these are in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ”. So, the consensus is that the book of Zechariah is full of Christ! Therefore, it is also full of encouragement. In fact, one writer said: “Zechariah is the Barnabas of the Old Testament – a true son of encouragement”. So, Boice might be right in saying that Zechariah is a difficult book but I reckon it should be well worth the effort of trying to understand it and we should expect to find plenty of encouragement in doing so. With no more ado, let’s turn to Zechariah 1v1 where we read; “In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo”. There we find some answers to the obvious introductory questions: “When?”, “Who?” and What?”. When? We see that it was “In the eighth… Read More

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