Monday, January 19, 2015

CSNTM Digitizes Oldest Manuscript of Paul’s Letters

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) announced last Thursday -- 15 January 2015 -- that they have completed the digitizing of P46. Here is the announcement from the Friends of CSNTM website:
In July of 2014 the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) traveled to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to digitize their New Testament Papyrus of Paul’s letters (P46). The CSNTM team consisted of Daniel B. Wallace, Robert D. Marcello, and Jacob W. Peterson. This was part of a combined project which will virtually reunite P46 since it is housed in two separate locations. The University was gracious to allow CSNTM to digitize their portion of the manuscript, and our staff was able to work with the University’s preservation department, which is known around the world for their work in papyrological preservation. A special thanks goes to Dr. Brendan Haug, the archivist of the Papyrology Collection and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Classical Studies, for his hospitality and his willingness to participate in this project.
P46 or Papyrus 46 in the Gregory-Aland system is the earliest Papyrus (c. AD 200) of the letters of Paul and Hebrews. It is housed at the Chester Beatty Library (CBL) in Dublin, Ireland and at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. CSNTM digitized the CBL portion in the summer of 2013, producing stunning high-resolution digital images that are already being used in theses and research around the globe. This manuscript is vitally important for understanding the transmission and earliest stages of the text of Paul’s writings, and we are excited to add the University of Michigan’s images to our library.
P46—both the CBL and Michigan images—may now be found in the CSNTM library.
The work that CSNTM has been doing has been an invaluable one, as they continue their important mission as described at their website:
1.To make digital photographs of extant Greek New Testament manuscripts so that such images can be preserved, duplicated without deterioration, and accessed by scholars doing textual research.
2.To utilize developing technologies (OCR, MSI, etc.) to read these manuscripts and create exhaustive collations.
3.To analyze individual scribal habits in order to better predict scribal tendencies in any given textual problem.
4.To publish on various facets of New Testament textual criticism.
5.To develop electronic tools for the examination and analysis of New Testament manuscripts.
6.To cooperate with other institutes in the great and noble task of determining the wording of the autographa of the New Testament.
Here is a brief video describing the work of CSNTM:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Importance of Christ-Centered Preaching

Charles Spurgeon once preached a sermon on the text of 1 Peter 2:7a entitled, Christ Precious to Believers, in which he related the following story:
A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, "What do you think of my sermon?" "A very poor sermon indeed," said he. "A poor sermon?" said the young man, "it took me a long time to study it." "Ay, no doubt of it." "Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?" "Oh, yes," said the old preacher, "very good indeed." "Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon? Didn't you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?" "Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon." "Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?" "Because," said he, "there was no Christ in it." "Well," said the young man, "Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text." So the old man said, "Don't you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?" "Yes," said the young man. "Ah!" said the old divine "and so form every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business in when you get to a text, to say, 'Now what is the road to Christ?' and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ. And," said he, "I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it."
Spurgeon describes what Bryan Chapell, my homiletics professor when I attended Covenant Seminary, would call Christ-Centered Preaching. But he would not say that we have to make our own road to Christ in any passage. Instead, I think he would say that the road is always there once one discovers in that passage the "fallen condition focus." In every passage there is some need revealed that is a result of man's fallen condition, a need that can only be met by the grace of God. Once this "fallen condition focus" has been found, then the road to Christ has also been found, for it is through Christ alone that we find an answer to our fallen condition, however that condition may manifest itself.

I thank God for the grace shown to me in sending me to Covenant Seminary, where I encountered Bryan Chapell and learned the lesson that Spurgeon knew and that all truly great preachers of the Gospel know -- the importance of Christ-centered preaching. In fact, Covenant Seminary had the following description posted on their website concerning the distinctive teaching Dr. Chapell brought to the training of prospective pastors during his time there:
Dr. Chapell's unique emphasis on a redemptive approach to preaching is built upon his assertion that to expound Biblical revelation from any passage, one must relate the explanation to the redeeming work of God in the present. This goal is best accomplished by identifying in each sermon what Dr. Chapell calls the "Fallen Condition Focus," the "mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or for whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage." This "grace of the passage" is the grace of God in Christ, the fundamental enabling means of obedience without which a sermon becomes simply a "sub-Christian" call "to be" or "to do" something in one's own strength.
I think one of the greatest Gospel preachers of all time said it best when he wrote to the Corinthians, "For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2, NKJV). May God give us the grace to take the torch that has been passed on to us and to faithfully show our hearers the road to Christ in any and every passage of Scripture!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Romans and Christianity 101

Over the years I have spoken to many Christians who seem to think that doctrines like election and predestination, or the mystery of the relationship between God's sovereignty and human responsibility, are in the category of deeper doctrines that really aren't essential things for Christians to know. Such doctrines are thought to be the kind of things that theologians write about or debate but that most Christians don't really need to be concerned about. They seem to think it is sort of graduate level Christianity, as it were. But I don't agree with this all too common assumption. In fact, I think that the Apostle Paul would emphatically disagree with it as well. I think that he would regard such doctrines as a part of what we might call Christianity 101. Consider, for example, what he said to the Roman Christians when he wrote his epistle to them, in which he famously discussed these very issues in great depth:
NKJ Romans 1:9-15 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, 10 making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established -- 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. 13 Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. 14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. 15 So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.
After this Paul immediately launches into the primary purpose for which he was writing the Epistle to the Romans, namely to explain the Gospel for them as he had done for so many others, the Gospel he longed to preach to them as he had preached it to others. He says, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek" (Romans 1:16), and then he gives us the most sustained presentation of the Gospel that we have in the New Testament. He gives us, in other words, what might easily be described as Christianity 101, the basic elements of the Gospel and of Christian soteriology that all Christians need to know. So, I would suggest that, for Paul, such doctrines as election and predestination, or the mystery of the relationship between God's sovereignty and human responsibility, doctrines that are a central part of the Epistle to the Romans, are in the category of basic Christianity. As I see it, the sooner Christians today learn this the better it will be for the Church. Just something to consider.